The dog days of summer have been unleashed. It’s that weird time of the year after the all-star break, when vacation season is heaviest. The sports world takes a deep breath, stretches and exhales after the completion of the off-season for the NBA, NHL and NFL. Players and fans alike are soaking up the sun and preparing for what’s around the corner.
Football, my friends, is almost back. For adults, Christmas might as well be around the corner. What’s wrapped under the tree is fresh cut grass, white spray painted lines and the sound of coaches whistles cutting through the humid air. The stockings are stuffed with fantasy football draft guides and DraftKings gift cards.
We have made it, football world. With training camp and preseason on the horizon, the 2019-20 season is upon us. There has been significant renovations to the Ravens roster and personne this spring. Rather than discerning between off-season workouts, ranking the best concessions in the NFL, or other erroneous offseason filler through a telescopic lens. . . let’s take a look through the wide angle lens at the major changes that have transpired between January and July.
- Eric DeCosta has taken over as GM
Replacing the legendary Ozzie Newsome is not small feat. However, after years of grooming, there’s no better man for the job. DeCosta has stepped up to the plate and managed a handful of difficult decisions extremely well, although it’s too early to tell if they were the correct ones.
DeCosta managed free agency, the draft and the rest of his first offseason with the big picture in mind. He inherited a young roster full of players who haven’t proven themselves, or even really had the opportunity to.
Staying calm, cool and collected instead of making drastic moves in free agency, EDC elected not to gamble the Ravens foreseeable future. Instrad, DeCosta bet on home grown talent. This will allow the front office to evaluate who is worth keeping in 2020, who they’re on the fence with and who they need to move on from. It’s time to see see if these recent draftees are worth their salt.
Following Ozzie’s “retool never rebuild” theme, DeCosta still made a splash in free agency.
2. Free Agency yielded two proven, veteran leaders, while clearing the way for recent draft selections.
Following the departures of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle, Zadarius Smith, Brent Urban, Maxx Williams, John Brown and Michael Crabtree, there were certainly some holes to fill. After brief restlessness and uncertainty, DeCosta and company pulled the trigger and brought in veteran standouts Earl Thomas and Mark Ingram. Both are proven players coming from winning organizations respectively.
Thomas and Ingram both will bring experience and leadership to each side of the ball. That experience will be warmly welcomed by an atypically youthful roster seeking direction as they head into a new era. Thomas has competed in multiple Super Bowls and countless playoff games, and Ingram was one call away from making it to the big game a year ago.
Both have been blue chip, first round, all world players for the better part of a decade. If you don’t think the Ravens are trying to win now, then why did they sign these two?
Free agency filled some other holes, such as bringing in the savvy receiver Seth Roberts. Pernell McPhee and Shane Ray are nice additions. Yet, this season is greatly dependent upon recent draftees in their second, third, or fourth year.
Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser, Tim Williams, Kenny Young, Hayden Hurst, Chris Moore, Willie Henry and Chris Wormley fit the bill. It’s also their turn to pick up the check. They will get to prove that they’re worth the time and effort the Ravens have invested in them.
The decision to propel these players into starting roles is a necessary one. For too long the Ravens have stashed talent away and brought in new faces for fear of what might not become. That’s not the case this year. It’s put up or shut up time for the 2016, 2017 and 2018 draft classes.
3. The franchise is all in on Lamar Jackson and defense.
Go to the Ravens team website. Nearly every promotion, billboard or discussion is centered around Lamar Jackson. Steve Biscotti, John Harbaugh and countless players have anointed the Ravens “Lamar’s team”.
In year two, Jackson is the Ravens. Their entire identity is tied in with his success or demise. They’ve pushed their chips into the pot and showed their hand. They’re all in.
Marty Mornhinweg is out. Greg Roman is in. David Culley has been roped in to coordinate and elevate the passing attack. Mark Ingram, Marquise Brown, Seth Roberts, Miles Boykin and Justice Hill have been brought in. All of these additions have one goal. Give Lamar everything he needs to succeed.
This even translates to the decisions made defensively. The Ravens have elected to bring back Brandon Carr and Jimmy Smith both. They signed Earl Thomas. They have the deepest and arguably most talented secondary in the league. This is intentional.
Teams are going to struggle to throw the ball on the Ravens. That’s the idea, at least. With teams unable to lean on the pass, it should slow the game down, keeping the score close. They remain stout against the run with Brandon Williams, Michael Pierce and company. They want low scoring slugfests.
Whenever you hear of a young quarterback taking the reigns, people love to mutter the phrase, “Defense and a run game are a young quarterbacks best friend.” Well. . . the Ravens have both.
They’ve created the perfect environment to bring Jackson along. A solid offensive line, countless options out of the backfield, an all world secondary and a formidable run defense. Sound familiar?
This recipe is deja vu of the 2012-2015 Seattle Seahawks. They didn’t have superstar receivers, but they had the legion of boom, some heavy hitters defensively, Marshawn Lynch, and a solid offensive line.
The Ravens even poached Earl Thomas! Sounds like DeCosta really likes what he saw out in Seattle. Just before you say, “but but but they have Russell Wilson!” Let’s look at Wilson’s numbers.
Wilson over his first four years ran for 2,430 yards on 411 carries. The Seahawks loved to use the play action off of their strong rushing attack led by Wilson and Lynch. Wilson attempted 407 passes in his second year under center, around 25 passes per game. Lamar Jackson averaged around 22 last year and that number should be in the 24-27 range this season.
No player on the 2013 Seahawks had more than 8.5 sacks and only one player registered over 20 QB hits. Their suffocating secondary held passers to 16 TD and 28 INT on the season.
The Seahawks dominated one of the most prolific offenses in NFL history to the tune of a 43-8 Super Bowl whooping. They did it without a 1000 yard receiver, a 10 sack pass rusher and with an offensive line no better than what the Ravens currently roster.
Don’t look now, but this team could be scary good following the Seahawks blueprint.
The Ravens have completed a full rebuild while remaining competitive throughout the past three seasons. Credit to Harbaugh, EDC, Ozzie, Mr. Biscotti and the scouts for this outstanding effort as an organization.
There are only 16 current Ravens that were on the team in 2016. Let that sink in. Excluding Cox, Koch and Tucker, merely 13. That’s 13/50 players, or 26% of the roster. Three quarters have been turned over. The Ravens are five games over .500 in those three seasons and are fresh off of a division title and a playoff berth.
They will have more cap space heading into next season then they’ve had in a decade. They’re talented, deep and ready to compete for Super Bowls for years to come.
Football is back, my friends and the Ravens are ready to shock the world in 2019.