10 Things We Learned About the Baltimore Ravens During Preseason
For the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens, the 2013 preseason was a four-game building process to take the steps toward molding together a roster full of new faces.
While several newcomers such as Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty and Marlon Brown excelled in their first live action with the Ravens, the team still struggled to gel everyone together in time for the regular-season opener on Thursday night against the Denver Broncos.
Here are 10 things we learned about the Ravens during the preseason.
Adding Daryl Smith Was a Smart Move
While the Ravens added plenty of new marquee names during the offseason, no new player will have a bigger impact this year than veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith.
The former Jacksonville Jaguar stepped in right away as a starter in the middle of Baltimore's 3-4 defense. His intensity, leadership and knack for the ball carrier were all noticeable right away, and his presence will help facilitate the process of transitioning from the post-Ray Lewis era.
If Smith's performance in the preseason is any indication of what is ahead, there is no reason to believe he can't lead the team in tackles this year.
Joe Flacco Has Some Work to Do with His Receivers
One of the biggest storylines entering the 2013 season for the Ravens is whether or not Anquan Boldin's presence will be missed in the Baltimore offense.
If the preseason is any indication of how the wide receivers will perform this year, Boldin's absence will be an obvious negative for the offense and quarterback Joe Flacco.
Flacco struggled to get on the same page with his targets, and inconsistencies by roster members such as Jacoby Jones and even tight end Dallas Clark did not provide any assurance moving forward.
The Ravens have enough talent to move on from Boldin, but if Flacco can't get on the same page with his targets, he may be in for a long year.
Marlon Brown Has Serious Potential
While the wide receivers as a whole struggled during the preseason, one player stood above the rest.
Once an unknown player who was nothing more than a roster filler with potential to maybe make the practice squad at the beginning of training camp, undrafted rookie Marlon Brown made the most of his opportunities during the preseason.
His shining moment came in the third preseason game, as he caught four passes for 59 yards and a touchdown, primarily playing with Flacco.
His performance was good enough to make the team, and Brown could be a breakout star in Baltimore's offense.
Marshal Yanda Is the Key to the Offensive Line
As if it wasn't obvious enough before, veteran offensive guard Marshal Yanda proved during the preseason that he is one of the most important pieces to the Ravens.
At the very least, he is the glue that holds the offensive line together. Yanda didn't play in the first two preseason games, and his absence was felt, particularly in the second game, when running back Ray Rice's running lanes were nonexistent.
When Yanda returned for the third game, the offensive line as a whole made few mistakes, before Yanda was replaced by Jah Reid, which led to immediate struggles for Baltimore in both the run and pass game.
Jimmy Smith Still Hasn't Improved
Entering his third season in the NFL, expectations are for cornerback Jimmy Smith's immense skill to finally come together, making him the shutdown corner the Ravens hoped he would be when they made him a first-round pick in 2011.
However, Smith gave little indication of that happening based on his performance during the preseason, when he was one of Baltimore's worst defensive players.
His biggest struggles came against the Atlanta Falcons, when he let Falcons receiver Julio Jones easily catch passes right in front of him.
Smith won't be a starter this season, and it's starting to look like he may never be.
Terrence Cody Looked Much Improved
One Ravens player who desperately needed a strong preseason in order to keep his roster spot was defensive tackle Terrence Cody, who was a prime cut candidate at the beginning of training camp.
Cody's struggles during his first three seasons made him expendable, especially since the Ravens used a third-round pick on nose tackle Brandon Williams this year.
However, Cody finished the preseason as the highest-graded defensive player on the Ravens, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
He was stout in run defense and should have a large role this season.
The Center Positon Still Provides Uncertainty
One of the most notable training camp battles in Baltimore was at center, where Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley competed to take over recently retired Matt Birk's job.
The battle lasted throughout training camp, with the incumbent—Gradkowski—ultimately winning the starting job.
Neither center impressed during the preseason, and if Gradkowski struggles in September, the idea of allowing Shipley to have a start may not be ruled out.
Shipley had more struggles than Gradkowski, but his strong performance in a limited role with the Indianapolis Colts last season provides reassurance if Gradkowski faces growing pains.
Re-Signing Vonta Leach Was the Right Move
Released by the Ravens in June, veteran fullback Vonta Leach ultimately returned to the team, as his value in Baltimore was higher than anywhere else.
Leach's return will be a welcomed addition to Baltimore's offense this season, as rookie fullback/tight end Kyle Juszczyk didn't prove himself as an NFL-caliber fullback during the preseason.
The role for Leach is still unknown, but odds are it will be fairly limited. However, when Leach is on the field, he is one of the most dominant fullbacks in football, and his presence will be felt as he opens running lanes for Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce.
Brandon Stokley Could Become One of Joe Flacco's Favorite Targets
While Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's game is centered around his strong arm and successful deep ball, it's no secret that it's the intermediate game that gets his pass attack going.
With Anquan Boldin in San Francisco and Dennis Pitta out with a hip injury, Flacco will be without his two favorite short-game targets from last season.
Insert Brandon Stokley.
The veteran was signed in August to become the Ravens' third receiver this season, and his presence will be felt as he operates primarily out of the slot.
His reliable hands will give him a role similar to what Boldin had in 2012.
The Ravens Are Still Good Enough to Make Another Super Bowl Run
Make no mistake about it: repeating as champions is one of the hardest things to do in not only the NFL, but in sports.
However, that won't stop the Ravens from making another run at the Lombardi Trophy this season, as their revamped and reloaded roster is certainly capable of reaching that feat.
At the very least, the Ravens appear primed to make the playoffs for a sixth straight year.
With key additions such as Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Daryl Smith, Arthur Brown and the return of Lardarius Webb from a season-ending injury, Baltimore's defense has the potential to be a top-10 unit this season.
The defense and run game will carry this team, and it'll be on Joe Flacco's shoulders to put everything together again this year.