After nearly reaching Super Bowl XLVI, the Baltimore Ravens have had an offseason full of drama—some of it minor, such as Ed Reed publicly flirting with retirement (again), and some of it major, such as Terrell Suggs injuring his Achilles heel back in April.
Throw in contract issues with star players both resolved (running back Ray Rice) and ongoing (Joe Flacco), and the offseason has been anything but docile for the Ravens and their fans.
Clearly, head coach John Harbaugh and new defensive coordinator (the Ravens' fourth in four years) Dean Pees have had months to work out how exactly they want to try to replace the production they will lose while Suggs is sidelined.
From looking at how they can utilize the talents of their second-round draft pick this year in Courtney Upshaw and their second-round pick in 2010 in Sergio Kindle, along with what should be progression from defensive end Pernell McPhee, who showed extreme promise as someone who could get pressure on the quarterback throughout parts of the 2011 season.
The most recent bit of drama, however, has left Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron having to adjust as they go.
As most know, starting left tackle Bryant McKinnie was a surprise no-show when camp opened last week after having what he says was an "accident" at home, which reportedly caused him to injure his back.
McKinnie arrived at practice on Sunday having missed three practices, not to mention racking up possibly $90,000 worth of fines for an unexcused absence, and he won't be able to hit the field until he is able to pass the team's conditioning test. That won't happen until McKinnie's mystery back ailment is better.
In the meantime, Cameron and offensive line coach Andy Moeller aren't pushing any panic buttons. As Cameron told the Associated Press (via the Ravens' official website), "The season is not tomorrow. Nobody is worried about it. It will play out the way it should play out, and we will be ready either way."
The Ravens did sign former Bengals offensive lineman Bobbie Williams back in June in an attempt to shore up the left guard spot after the departure of Ben Grubbs in free agency, and as you can see below, Moeller seems pleased with the acquisition.
So far in camp, the Ravens have had Michael Oher switch back to left tackle from the right side, where he has excelled during his still-young NFL career. He has been—and this is being charitable—pretty terrible on the left side when asked to handle the league's best speed rushers.
Moving Oher, of course, opens up the right tackle position where the Ravens have rookie second-round pick Kelechi Osemele, Jah Reid (who is working through a calf injury) and Ramon Harewood as options.
I tend to think Osemele would be a better option at guard than at tackle, but the Ravens no doubt want to see how the rookie looks in as many situations as possible before deciding on what his best position is.
Asked last week about the starting right tackle spot and the prospect of having Osemele possibly starting, Harbaugh told reporters:
Absolutely, we definitely feel like he’s a guy who can come in and start, I would say that about Ramon and Jah, too. But Kelechi is talented, he’s tough, he’s really smart.
Regardless of how the line ends up shaking out, the Ravens are now left to work through a much bigger issue than they first envisioned when opening camp. Even if McKinnie had reported on time and healthy, the left side of the line was a concern. Now, almost the entire unit will be an ongoing question mark throughout training camp and the preseason.
This is not to say this is something that can't be overcome. Of course it can, and most likely will be. Harbaugh and his staff are one of the league's best at working through personnel issues as they arise throughout the year, and this will be no different.
However, there's no question that the road back to the AFC Championship game and perhaps the Super Bowl has only gotten tougher for the Ravens over the last week, and the team hasn't so much as played a preseason game yet.