Who Will Join Joe Flacco and Ray Rice as Ravens' Next Superstar?

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Who Will Join Joe Flacco and Ray Rice as Ravens' Next Superstar?
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The next Ravens star will come from the offensive side of the ball.

As the Baltimore Ravens begin preparing to defend their Super Bowl XLVII championship, the practice facility in Owings Mills, Md., had a different aura for the first time in nearly a decade.

Gone are two of the more iconic figures of the franchise in the retired Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, who signed with Houston Texans over the offseason.

The absence of both defensive leaders is huge when put into perspective. They represent two future Hall of Famers whose combination of gifted talents and diverse personalities created a culture that became contagious across the Baltimore locker room.

That Ravens formed their winning culture due to both men forging unique relationships with their teammates and instilling a mentality that led to success on the football field.

Now that both are gone, the Super Bowl champions find themselves transitioning from the defensive identity that the Ravens have been accustomed to since their inception into the league.

The team is now being formed around its offense, where stars Joe Flacco and Ray Rice share low-key personalities and lead by example.

The search for the next superstar for one of the NFL's elite organizations will come from the ranks of the offensive. This time, the emerging star will be wide receiver Torrey Smith, who became the most consistent threat in the Ravens' passing game.

A former second-round pick of the Ravens, Smith has shown his potential to become an explosive receiver since he played at the University of Maryland.

Smith's electrifying speed has fit in well with an offense that has involved Flacco utilizing his strong arm. That was apparent during Baltimore's 2012-13 postseason run, most notably in the Ravens' 38-35 double-overtime playoff win over the Denver Broncos.

However, Smith's combination of speed and quality hands as a pass-catcher does not mean there is no room for improvement. Smith still needs to work on his routes with the intermediate passing game. The departure of Anquan Boldin makes it even more crucial for Smith to assume responsibility as the No.1 target and become a more effective receiver.

Clearly, the expectations haven't been set too high. Smith has used the offseason to improve his intermediate route running, which can lead to more targets in an offense that is focusing on adding speed at the crucial skill positions.

The Ravens' offense could reach its expectations as an elite unit in the regular season with Jim Caldwell returning as offensive coordinator, and a franchise quarterback who is still out to prove himself in this league.

The key to Baltimore's new, up-tempo style of offense is a third-year receiver who is on the brink of becoming a "complete" receiver in the National Football League in the eyes of Rice, according to Matt Vensel of The Baltimore Sun.

A new era of Ravens football is set to begin, with Smith looking to develop into a cornerstone of the organization for years to come.

Matt Miselis is a veteran NFL columnist for BleacherReport. Follow him on twitter @MattMiselisNFL 

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