Last season was supposed to be a wash, a learning experience, a free pass for new Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh. After Brian Billick's 5-11 swan song, fans were eager for a change. If the new guy didn't win right away, he could be forgiven.
And then, out of nowhere, Harbaugh and rookie quarterback Joe Flacco spun around that 2007 record, finishing 11-5 and losing to Pittsburgh in the AFC Championship Game.
If that was Harbaugh's mulligan season, this year should be even better, right?
Could be. The Ravens will lean on a few key additions in 2009 to fine-tune an already potent machine.
LJ Smith - Maybe two oft-injured tight ends will equal one reliable tight end. Both Todd Heap and Smith, a free-agent signee who spent six seasons with the Eagles, find themselves banged up a lot.
Many of Heap's injuries over the years seemed to result from shots he took while stretching for poorly thrown balls; injuries to his back and his head. Smith's ailments have been a sports hernia and a bruised shoulder. He hasn't taken the punishment Heap has absorbed.
Heap, after years of being the favorite target of whatever low-rent quarterback Baltimore happened to be starting, last season found himself Flacco's last option. It wasn't clear whether Harbaugh and Offensive Coordinator Cam Cameron didn't like tight ends ... or just didn't like Heap.
The Ravens will encourage Flacco to pay more attention to his tight ends. Together, maybe they'll have a good year.
Domonique Foxworth - How desperate were the Ravens for a good cornerback? Desperate enough to give Foxworth a four-year, $28 million deal - with $16.5 million guaranteed.
The Ravens finally released Chris McAlister and filled the hole with Foxworth, a four-year vet who, in Denver and Atlanta, played pretty much all the defensive backfield positions. He's versatile, he's physical and he can tackle - a trait often missing from the Ravens' secondary in 2008.
On passing downs, a sure-tackling Foxworth will let Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and the Ravens' other linebackers do what they do best - gamble on a game-changing hit or interception.
Plus, Foxworth is a local Baltimore guy who went to Maryland. We love that kind of thing around here.
Matt Birk - A six-time Pro-Bowl center from Harvard, Birk would seem a great fit for a young quarterback like Flacco. He was a steadying influence in Minnesota for 10 years.
Birk is durable - he's missed four games in eight years. How is that even possible?
Michael Oher - When Cal Ripken moved to third base, Mike Bordick became the everyday shortstop. Bordick did pretty well. But fans never stopped comparing him to the Hall of Famer.
Any tackle who straps on the Purple and Black will be measured against Jonathan Ogden, one of the greatest tackles in NFL history. Oher's a rookie first-round pick from Ole Miss who's got talent. But he's no Jonathan Ogden.
Unless he makes shocking progress in rookie camp and training camp, Oher won't start. But by the end of the season, the Ravens expect he'll be an impact player.
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