With the official start of the Baltimore Ravens' preseason and training camp starting on Wednesday, I wanted to take a quick preview on what this team has going for it and against it. Starting with the offseason additions and subtractions, we'll see what the Ravens have gained and lost.
New Ravens - Free Agents
QB Matt Schaub - 1 year deal
S Kendrick Lewis - 3 year deal
QB Bryn Renner - Reserve/Future contract
WR Aldrick Robinson - Reserve/Future contract
DE Zach Thompson - Reserve/Future contract
CB Kyle Arrington - 3 year deal
CB Casius Vaughn - 1 year deal
New Ravens - Drafted
WR Breshad Perriman - 1st Round
TE Maxx Williams - 2nd Round
DT Carl Davis - 3rd Round
DE Za'Darius Smith - 4th Round
RB Javorius Allen - 4th Round
CB Tray Walker - 4th Round
TE Nick Boyle - 5th Round
OL Robert Myers - 5th Round
WR Darren Waller - 6th Round
OL Jah Reid - 1 year deal
DE Chris Canty - 2 year deal (after waiving him first)
DE Lawrence Guy - 2 year deal
DT Christo Bilukidi - 2 year deal
LS Morgan Cox - 1 year deal
RB Justin Forsett - 3 year deal
CB Anthony Levine - 2 year deal
Exclusive Rights Free Agents
WR Kamar Aiken
CB Rashaan Melvin
S Brynden Trawick
OL Ryan Jensen
CB Tramain Jacobs
DT Casey Walker
DE Steven Means
LS Patrick Scales
OL Gino Gradkowski - Traded - Denver Broncos
RB Bernard Pierce - Cut - Jacksonville Jaguars
S Darian Stewart - Free Agent - Denver Broncos
QB Tyrod Taylor - Free Agent - Buffalo Bills
DT Haloti Ngata - Traded - Detroit Lions
WR Torrey Smith - Free Agent - San Francisco 49ers
TE Owen Daniels - Free Agent - Denver Broncos
OLB Pernell McPhee - Free Agent - Chicago Bears
WR Jacoby Jones - Cut - San Diego Chargers
NT Terrence Cody - Cut - Free Agent
Much has been made about the losses for the Ravens during this offseason, especially Torrey Smith and Haloti Ngata. However, the Ravens did a good job in both signing their own players and grabbing others in the draft to help make up some of the loss. This first year, it might take several players to replicate the overall success that Haloti Ngata and Torrey Smith had, but they seem to be gearing up exactly for that type of play.
In addition to the loss and gain of players, the Ravens had yet another offensive coordinator land with another team for a head coaching job in Gary Kubiak and the Denver Broncos. With Kubiak, the Ravens lost a few players as well to the Denver Broncos as I'm sure there was some mild recruiting going on. Kubiak was replaced with yet another former head coach in Marc Trestman.
Trestman has publicly admitted that he would keep the same overall offense, but add some new wrinkles in as the offense led to some great accomplishments for the Ravens in 2014. The expectation is that the Ravens will use more of their new tight ends and running backs in the passing game, but all is unknown until we see it live in the first regular season game. Trestman is known for his pass first scheme and being a "quarterback whisperer", so this could very well be the year that quarterback Joe Flacco throws for over 4,000 yards and begins his rise in the eyes of the media that Baltimore fans have known for some time.
Defensively, the Ravens are mainly looking to get and stay healthy. With the loss of cornerback Jimmy Smith in 2014 due to his foot injury, the secondary just fell apart. Part of that was because of continuing injuries to just about everyone that the Ravens put a helmet on in the secondary, but Jimmy Smith was the big loss that could have turned the season into a Super Bowl winning one.
By far, the biggest roster battle is in the wide receiver corps. I can't even begin to tell you who will make the team, how many players the Ravens will hold onto from the wide receivers, much less who will be the top 3 players. All signs point to Steve Smith being the top dog initially, but training camp could separate other players quickly.
After the wide receivers comes the corners. With 2014 being so rough on the secondary, the Ravens did well to add a few new players to the backend of the defense and resign the ones that did well for them. That leaves the nickle corner spot wide open and the safety spots open as well. It will be interesting to see if the drafted Ravens take over, or if it is the added veterans that nab the spots during training camp.
The last main roster battle is in the defensive line. With the Ravens loving versatile players that can play all over the line, each of the defensive lineman spots will be a rotation depending on strengths and weaknesses. While I think the Ravens can replace the effects of Haloti Ngata, it will take some serious consideration and time to figure out the strengths and weaknesses of the young defensive linemen on the roster to create the best possible unit.
The Ravens appear to have expectations of the Super Bowl. Every team in the NFL has the thought that they could win the big game, but the Ravens have made some of the moves that you would expect for a team that is seriously going to be a contender. The biggest note is the move to add in backup quarterback Matt Schaub. Schaub is an accomplished quarterback that has been to the playoffs before in Houston. While this is no longer that same Schaub, his experience and similarities to Flacco would allow him to make an easy transition into the starting spot if Flacco were to be injured in some way. While not the guy expected to take the Ravens to the promised land, Schaub could fill in for a few games with the expectation of winning, all without switching too much scheme around in order to make him feel comfortable. That type of planning is what big time teams will do when they feel that they have a special roster.
The addition of the many offensive weapons also points towards the Ravens thinking they have the type of team to go all the way. The defense performed well in 2014 even with the secondary debacle, and if healthy, they should be a top-5 unit again. The offense however was good last season but is short on talent at the playmaking spots. Taking care of that not only helps in this season, but beyond as those players should be able to grow with the team and quarterback Joe Flacco into solid players.
This is a team going up against some of the best in the league with the AFC North being it's home and having to face off against the NFC West this season. However, the Ravens have almost always been a team that plays alright during the regular season and otherworldly during the postseason. I expect a similar performance from this roster in 2015 where we have some head scratching plays and losses only to have the team turn on the burners when the games truly matter and go deep into the playoffs. With a little luck and healthy, the Ravens will hoist their third Lombardi Trophy.