Only time will tell whether the moves the Baltimore Ravens made this off season translate into at least a league-leading sixth playoff appearance, or even a repeat trip to the Super Bowl. The Ravens lost more than half of their defensive starters as well as two key position on the offense.
They responded by bringing in key veterans and drafted wisely to filled critical positions as well as add significant depth on both sides of the ball. In fact, this year's version may have more depth than any other in the team's 18 year history. The players may be the type you can just "plug & play" but there is much more to just filling the positions that will elevate the team to elite status once again.
Football is the ultimate team game and chemistry is just as important, if not more so, than individual prowess. Just look at the Philadelphia Eagles, the so-called "Dream Team" of two years ago. After adding some of the best individual talent prior to the 2011 season, people were crowning them future Super Bowl Champs long before the season began. Then the lack of team chemistry resulted in a 8-8 season that year and 4-12 this past season.
The Ravens were virtually the complete opposite and have been over the past five years. Team chemistry, a vocal leader and solid coaching lad the team to the post season each year, including three trips to the AFC Championship Game and victory in Super Bowl XLVII.
While both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed were mere shadows of their Hall of Fame selves, they were far from the better players on the team, much less at their positions. Inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe played faster, stronger and tackled more consistently than Lewis. Safety Bernard Pollard hit harder and roamed the field better than Reed, despite not being known for his pass coverage skills.
Both rookies drafted to fill those voids will obviously be younger faster and perhaps even stronger and harder hitting than the legends they are replacing. But is that enough to fill their shoes? The leadership, positioning and both sideline and locker room presence is something that cannot be duplicated, at least not for the time being.
Hopefully, those roles will be assumed by other veteran leadership on the team, but to expect Matt Elam and Arthur Brown to line up at their positions and see what Ed Reed and Ray Lewis saw is unrealistic. Will the upgrades of their physical attributes be enough to overcome the loss of mental preparation that most considered Ray and Ed to be the best in the league at doing?
As mentioned above, only time will tell that tale, but the future is bright for the Ravens, which should not thrill their opponents in 2013 and beyond.