Now that free agency and the NFL Draft are in the rear view mirror and the dust has settled, the Baltimore Ravens have geared up for a run at Super Bowl 44.
Several key players are gone, and many fresh faces have been brought in. Are the new additions enough to push the team that were four minutes away from last year's Super Bowl over the hump? We will break it all down, and see where Baltimore is left standing.
- Bart Scott, LB
- Jason Brown, C
- Chris McAlister, CB
- Lorenzo Neal, FB
- Jim Leohnard, S
The loss of Brown to free agency (STL) was a massive blow to an up and coming offensive line.
In his first season as a starter, following the release of incumbent Mike Flynn, Brown emerged as one of the league's elite centers. Displaying great power in the running attack, solid pass protection, and the mental capacity to make necessary adjustments on the line, Brown proved to be invaluable to one of the league's youngest lines.
After Scott left for the NYJ, many have questioned who will follow the Ravens motto of 2008 and become the "Next Man Up." The Mad-Backer posted another excellent showing playing ILB, and leaves a big void in the heart of the Ravens' defense.
After battling injuries for several years, and alleged conflicts with staff, McAlister was released after a stellar career in Charm City. When healthy, McAlister is still capable of playing on a Pro Bowl level, and brings a lot of experience and attitude to the table.
- Matt Birk, C
- Domonique Foxworth, CB
- Michael Oher, OT (via Draft)
- Paul Kruger, DE (via draft)
Birk is a six-time Pro Bowler who still appears to have several more years left in the tank. Bringing years of experience as one of the NFL's best at his position, the Ravens' young offensive line will have the leadership it has missed since Jonathan Ogden retired.
Foxworth got his first starting gig in Atlanta in 2008 and parlayed a strong performance into a hefty four year contract to play in Baltimore. While his starting experience is limited, Foxworth showed very good coverage skills and elite speed, so the upside is there for him to develop into an upper echelon type DB within the Ravens' scheme.
Oher and Kruger comprised Baltimore's first and second round selections in the NFL draft. Both will be competing for a starting job as rookies, and have the potential to make a big impact from day one.
The Ravens have stuck to their philosophy of stockpiling talent in the trenches and on defense during the offseason.
There is no clear cut replacement for Scott yet, although sophomore LB Tavares Gooden appears to have gained the organization's confidence to step in and produce.
Baltimore did an admirable job bringing back key players while still landing quality replacements, and doing so with little flexibility in cap room.
Landing Birk and Oher, as well as OG Marshall Yanda, returning from the IR, will improve an already effective offensive line. This should lead to a more consistent and productive offense, particularly the ground attack, and will allow TE Todd Heap to run loose once again, rather than staying on the line in max protect schemes.
The return of DT Kelly Gregg will bring a lot of flexibility to the defense, allowing Baltimore to run their complex defensive schemes more effectively, as well as taking some of the pressure off of DT/DE Haloti Ngata. It should also allow the Ravens to capitalize on Kruger's versatility and line him up all around the front seven.
For the first time in years, Baltimore will have tremendous depth in the secondary. S Dawan Landry returns, three CB's will be fighting it out for a starting job, and safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura provide insurance.
While Baltimore didn't do much to improve the skill positions on offense, the revamped offensive line should be enough to level out the offense and give QB Joe Flacco time to make plays.
Last year's fourth ranked running game should be even better this year, as well. Overall, the offense will likely be a little more effective, but perhaps more importantly, it will give Baltimore the edge in ball control and give their defense more time to rest.
The Ravens' biggest gains on defense may simply be the return of two of their starters (Gregg and Landry). With those players returning, and Kruger and Gooden infusing fresh young talent into the front seven, this defense could be even better this year after ranking No. 2 overall in 2008.
Healthy, hungry and determined, 2009 could very well be the year that Baltimore make a return to the Super Bowl.