Another year of professional football has just gone by in the blink of an eye.
As a fan you have to just stand quietly for a moment and wonder, where exactly did the season go? I mean especially for a Ravens' fan like myself, how did this miraculous season pass by so quickly?
I honestly don't know. Luckily thanks to the magic of a Comcast DVR-Box and downloadable games on the Internet, I can slowly work my way through our 11 and 5 season, again, while I not-so-patiently wait for the triumphant return of Sunday night football.
Of course that doesn't change the fact that we're still in the off-season one bit. So now I am forced to review the facts, review our trades and draft picks and finally come to a few conclusions on what I love and what I hate about the 2010 Baltimore Ravens' team roster.
Hopefully you can understand and sympathize.
Things I LOVE about the Ravens' immediate future:
1. Ray Lewis decides to return to Baltimore: This, by a large margin, was the most joyous event of the off-season. His return to the Ravens means more to me, and the Baltimore defense, than almost every other off-season event combined.
2. 1st-round draft pick, Michael Oher, falling down the board to us: How does an immense talent like Oher fall down to the 26th pick overall?! I still ask this question to just about all of my co-workers, whether they like it or not.
Remember that he was projected as a top-10 pick by both NFL.com and CBSports.com analysts and even went to the green room at Radio City music-hall.
3. Free-agent signing of Ex-Falcon Domonique Foxworth cornerback: With C-Mac gone, probably to live out the rest of his career in a pasture, and even Corey Ivy gone to the NY Jets, our defensive backs needed some help. Enter Foxworth.
Even though his statistics have never been gaudy, he has quietly been solid while playing for both Denver and Atlanta. His world-class speed combined with our defensive schemes will probably aid him in becoming one of the elite young corners in the league.
4. Pro-Bowl Center, Matt Birk, leaves Minnesota to provide immediate help on our O-line: I have followed Birk's play for a number of years, even though he has never really played on any teams I typically follow. His physical, rugged, durable style of play will pay immediate dividends in the passing game.
I have high hopes his replacement of Jason Brown will continue to contribute to our 4th ranked rushing game.
All of these additions will factor in greatly on where we end up in the standings in 2010. Not one of these players lacks the character or mentality to integrate with our sturdy, hard-nosed playing style.
With a little luck, in terms of injuries and/or suspensions, the Ravens have the talent and the heart to go deep in the playoffs again.
2. Things I utterly HATE about our immediate future:
1. OLB Bart Scott follows our ex-defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan to the NY Jets: Out of our entire linebacking corps., Scott was a play-maker. He's in his prime, has been tutored by perhaps the best LB in NFL history and was a perfect fit in our 'Organized Chaos' defensive scheme.
The only saving grace is that perhaps like former teammate, Adalius Thomas: currently playing for the New England Patriots, he might just be a moderately skilled player who just fit in very well in our defensive mold.
2. The lack of play-making, burner-type receivers that could have been addressed through the draft and/or free-agency: I know that we had other needs as well, I mean I really do understand that.
It just seems that out of all of our glaring holes, either a tall or very consistent receiver with the ability to stretch the field was surely one of them.
I know Oher fell all the way down to us, which really didn't leave Ozzie Newsome a lot of options, but we could have at least taken a pass-catcher well before we took TCU TE Davon Drew with the first of two 5th-round picks.
This is a significant area of concern, at least in my humble opinion. Where as normally I would have rested easy knowing that Ozzie would take care of the roster, this time, this season I took a quick glance over our receiver depth chart and came to this realization.
Even though he himself was a hall-of-fame tight-end for the Cleveland Browns, our beloved GM has had his greatest challenge picking receiving targets with early round picks.
Other than Todd Heap, most if not all of the other 1st or 2nd-round picks used on receiving options have not been to Hawaii.
3. The loss of safety Jim Leonhard in the off-season to the NY Jets: Out of all the players that decided to go with ex-defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, to his new team in New York, Leonhard was as talented as they come, especially considering his height and size.
He was able to take the extra playing time last year that came at the expense of Dawan Landry's season-ending injury and turn it into a highlight reel.
With Landry coming back from a very serious spine injury and the loss of OLB Bart Scott and DB's Corey Ivy and Jim Leonhard, I am very surprised that management decided against re-signing Leonhard even if it was just for depth.
He could have been re-signed for a very good price.
4. Derrick Mason's off-season injury: Of all the things that could happen. Again, our current group of receivers are either inconsistent, lack size or are just untested and green. The single most consistent threat Baltimore has had over the past 4 seasons has been Mason.
Don't get me wrong, it's not that I don't have 'some' hope that Demetrius Williams, Mark Clayton, Todd Heap or even our newly drafted tight-end will turn into a consistent weapon. Someone is bound to step-up in the limelight if Mason is out for any extended period of time.
The only thing that worries me is that in that situation it would take time for our receiving targets to become a consistent downfield threat, time that would require our running game to shoulder a tremendously heavy workload. This leads directly into my next concern.
5. The potentially devastating loss of All-world fullback, Lorenzo Neal, to the Oakland Raiders: To overlook the importance of this player would be a grave mistake for any NFL fan.
Even in this era of wide-open offenses and halfbacks that lead their team in receptions, Neal has consistently given A+ effort on every team he has played for.
In just about each and every one of his 17 seasons he has helped a RB gain over a 1000 yards. Besides such notables as LaDainian Tomlinson and Eddie George, last season Neal's incredible run-blocking helped Le'Ron McClain, Willis McGahee(when not injured) and Ray Rice end the season ranked 4th in yards gained on the ground.
Without him or C Jason Brown, our offensive line will be hard pressed to match last season's surprising success.
In review, I will go over every position on our roster and grade them according to my personal opinions.
QB: B+ Joe Flacco has exceptional pocket presence in his first season as the starter, quality back-up Troy Smith provides much needed support as well as a change of pace in schemes such as the Wildcat formation.
Willis McGahee is a world-class RB when healthy, Le'Ron McClain has the strength and subtle agility to be an efficient, sturdy workhorse and Ray Rice provides good depth while playing with excellent leverage and quickness.
Todd Heap and Derrick Mason-hopefully-provide great receiving options on short and intermediate routes.
Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams have the speed and talent to possibly one day become consistent downfield threats but have struggled to consistently catch passes and draw coverage so far.
With the addition of OG Michael Oher, a raw but immense talent, and C Matt Birk, this offensive line may prove to be even better overall than last season's.
As the season progresses and it has time to gel, it should become even better, allowing our QB to go deeper into his progressions.
Although the return of Ray Lewis softened the blow and provided a sight for sore eyes, the departure of Bart Scott and the lack of overall experienced depth at the position lowers the LB corps. grade this season.
Terrell Suggs continues to be a play-making menace at the OLB position and will help the Baltimore defense continue it's run of top 10 rankings.
Let's face it, Samari Rolle is getting older and has clearly lost half a step since his days in Tennessee. Domonique Foxworth and Fabian Washington will vie for starting snaps and still have many years left in their careers.
C-Mac will be missed but clearly needed a change of scenery towards the end of last season.
The only reason this group doesn't get a A+ grade is due to my concerns with Dawan Landry's return from a severe spinal injury.
Ed Reed played lights out last season and I believe he was snubbed for defensive player of the year honors in favor of Pittsburgh LB, Jerome Harrison. Quality depth is provided by Tom
Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg are blue-collar, hard working defensive linemen, capable of collapsing the pocket and rushing the passer effectively without the need for blitz packages or extra personnel.
Rookie DE Paul Kruger plays to the whistle and will likely be able to provide help in his first season with the Ravens.
All being said and done, I think the Ravens will have some soul searching as the season begins, attempting to find a solid identity on offense and defense with the loss and addition of some key players. However, I feel they will obviously once again be in contention in both their conference and the AFC North.
Final Grade: B+
2010 Prediction: 10-6 or 11-5, which will be good for either 1st or 2nd place in AFC North.