After falling one play short of a Super Bowl appearance, the Baltimore Ravens appear ready for another run at a Lombardi Trophy.
The team looks relatively the same on paper, but with some departures and new additions via free agency, plus their picks in April's draft, the team is looking to take things one step further in 2012.
The Ravens front office often finds hidden gems during the offseason to fill holes, and this year has been no exception.
Starter: Joe Flacco
Backup: Tyrod Taylor
There's no doubt that Joe Flacco is the starting quarterback for the Ravens this season. Despite expressing his desire for a new contract, he will be under center in Week 1, without question.
One of the major weaknesses of the Ravens current roster, however, is their lack of veteran depth at the quarterback position. Second-year player Tyrod Taylor spent all of last season learning from the sideline, but he is still far from NFL-ready. However, Coach Harbaugh has expressed confidence in the Virginia Tech alumnus.
The team also signed former Colt Curtis Painter for depth during free agency.
Starter: Ray Rice
Backup: Bernard Pierce
The longer Ray Rice sits out, the more worried I get about his potential for a big year.
Rice is currently in contract disputes with the Ravens and has yet to sign his franchise tender. Odds are he will before training camp, but if he doesn't, we could be looking at a situation similar to Chris Johnson's last year. CJ2K eventually got his deal, but a lack of training camp caused him to have injuries and eventually an average season. T
he team drafted Bernard Pierce out of Temple to back up Rice. Pierce is a bigger back than Rice and has the size to break tackles and drag defenders for those crucial extra yards. The guys at DraftCountdown.com compare his skill set to Buffalo's Fred Jackson.
Hopefully Rice is on the field from the first play of the season, but if not, the team has options.
Starters: Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith
Backups: Tandon Doss, LaQuan Williams, Jacoby Jones
The duo of Boldin and Smith will return as starters, but some new faces could challenge them once camp starts.
Tandon Doss is a pass-catching machine and could be a great slot option if given the opportunity.
The Ravens really like the deep threat that Jacoby Jones brings to the table, but his value will be greater on special teams.
LaQuan Williams was forced into action last season, but he's not an NFL-caliber receiver just yet.
Starter: Dennis Pitta
Backup: Ed Dickson
This might be the most interesting battle in training camp this summer.
Pitta and Dickson split snaps in 2011 and will probably continue that in 2012. Dickson might be slightly more athletic, but Pitta has the best hands on the team and seems to catch everything you throw his way.
Both guys figure to get a ton of reps in 2012, but hopefully this will be the year one of these two steps up and enters the elite class of NFL tight ends.
Starter: Bryant McKinnie
Backup: Ramon Harewood
Bryant McKinnie is a bit over the hill, but he's the best option the team has at this point.
Harewood is still raw and won't see the field unless an injury pops up during the season.
Starter: Jah Reid
Backup: Kelechi Osemele
The biggest departure during the offseason was All-Pro guard Ben Grubbs heading to the Big Easy, and the daunting task of filling his starting spot goes to 2011 third-rounder Jah Reid.
At 6'7" and 335 pounds, Reid is the size of a small mountain, but the question is, how will he fare against NFL competition?
For insurance, the Ravens drafted Osemele in April, and he could steal the starting gig with a strong camp.
Starter: Matt Birk
Backup: Gino Gradkowski
All reports after the AFC Championship Game pointed to Matt Birk retiring, but he's back for a 15th NFL season. Birk is likely spend the rest of his time in Baltimore grooming his eventual replacement, and that could end up being Gino Gradkowski.
Gradkowski was heavily sought after by the Patriots and Steelers before the Ravens snatched him up in the fourth round out of Delaware. Flacco is also a former Blue Hen, so it's possible the team has had its eye on Gradkowski for a couple years now.
The job is Birk's—for now.
Starter: Marshal Yanda
Backup: Bobbie Williams
With Grubbs gone, the best offensive lineman on this squad is Yanda, who finally made the Pro Bowl in 2011. He's nasty and will likely be the guy creating holes for Ray Rice once he gets back on the field.
The team recently signed former Bengals guard Bobbie Williams, but it was purely a depth signing. Look for Yanda to become the face of the Ravens offensive line in 2012.
Starter: Michael Oher
Backup: Addison Lawrence
The false start machine known as Michael Oher actually improved as the Ravens made their playoff run last year. He's struggled since being drafted, but has shown signs that he could be a late bloomer.
The team will be counting on him to step up with Grubbs gone and Birk aging. Lawrence is just a warm body at this point.
Starters: Haloti Ngata, Terrence Cody, Arthur Jones
Backups: Pernell McPhee, Maake Kemoeatu, DeAngelo Tyson
The Ravens defensive line is hard to break down since the team plays a 3-4.
Haloti Ngata is the biggest name, and he is looking to rebound from an inconsistent 2011 season. I'm also really excited to see what Terrence Cody can do with another season under his massive belt.
The biggest battle here, though, is between Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee, who will compete for the defensive end spot.
Starters: Ray Lewis, Jameel McClain
Backups: Dannell Ellerbe, Brendon Ayanbadejo
Really hoping this new kid Ray Lewis makes the roster—I got a good feeling about him!
Seriously, though, this position is all but locked up. These are the same names were saw at this position last year (which isn't a bad thing).
Josh Bynes and Nigel Carr are a couple undrafted rookies who will be looking to make some noise once camp starts.
Starters: Courtney Upshaw, Paul Kruger
Backups: Michael McAdoo, Albert McClellan, Sergio Kindle
With the injury to Terrell Suggs, this position becomes a possible weakness for a stellar defense.
Kruger is a decent pass-rusher, but he sometimes gets lost in coverage. Upshaw should be a beast from Day 1, but he's a rookie, so it could take a while to adjust to the pro level.
If the team can get anything out of Sergio Kindle, the Ravens should consider themselves lucky after his string of bad luck since being drafted.
Starters: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith
Backups: Cary Williams, Asa Jackson, Danny Gorrer, Chykie Brown
The cornerback position is, without a doubt, the deepest on the team.
Lardarius Webb has a brand-new, six-year contract and is rapidly becoming one of the best corners in the league. Jimmy Smith should only get better in his second season, and he is my pick to start over Cary Williams, solely based on potential.
Danny Gorrer surprised the fans of Baltimore with his play and provided excellent depth, and rookie Asa Jackson will likely be used on special teams primarily.
Starters: Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard
Backups: Sean Considine, Christian Thompson
He might be another year older, but Ed Reed is still one of the best playmakers in the NFL (when healthy) and appears to have at least one year left. Bernard Pollard proved to be a great free-agent pickup last year and delivered some big hits to opposing teams.
Considine is a journeyman who provides depth, and Christian Thompson is another promising late-round pick by Ozzie Newsome and company.
My guess is the Ravens will really miss backups Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura.
Kicker: Billy Cundiff
Punter: Sam Koch
Returner: Jacoby Jones
Ravens fans were calling for a new kicker the moment Cundiff missed wide left in the AFC Championship Game. The team brought in rookie free-agent Justin Tucker, and it will be interesting to see if he's given a fair chance to win a spot on the roster.
Sam Koch is one of the best punters in the league, so no problems there.
Special teams also should be vastly improved with newly acquired speedster Jacoby Jones returning kicks.