One constant that the Ravens have been blessed with is the presence of GM Ozzie Newsome, affectionately called the "Wizard of Oz" by Ravens fans far and wide for his shrewd personnel moves and ability to consistently put together teams with superior talent, ultimately resulting in several playoff appearances and a Super Bowl Championship.
This year, many people, me included, are expecting a big-time run toward the second Lombardi in franchise history. But for that to happen, these five guys need to contribute to the cause more than they have previously.
The only healthy starting-caliber corner on the Ravens' roster, following the ACL injuries to both Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb, Domonique Foxworth was signed prior to last season to be one of the Ravens' starting corners.
He was decent in that role.
While some Ravens fans were critical of his play due to his high-paying contract, it was unreasonable to expect him to suddenly transform into a Deion Sanders-like player without any knowledge of a new defensive system.
He got better as the season went on and he got to know the system.
While Lardarius Webb is well ahead of his rehab schedule and looks like he might even be ready for the last week or two of the preseason, Foxworth has had the benefit of a full offseason in his new home and is being paid like the Ravens' No. 1 cornerback.
Now he has to play like it.
The Ravens' 2nd round pick in the 2009 NFL Draft, Paul Kruger was heralded as the next big-time pass rusher to join the Ravens' defense with a high motor and good athleticism.
While it was fine for a rookie to not be a starter, Kruger is not a special teams player, and that made it difficult for him to get on the field at all in 2009.
The obvious exception, of course, that many Ravens fans remember, was his interception of Steelers QB Dennis Dixon in overtime, setting up Billy Cundiff's (almost typed Matt Stover there, still feels weird) game-winning field goal.
Kruger is moving to defensive end this year, playing at an increased weight of about 290 pounds compared to a leaner 275 that he played at linebacker last season. He'll play the five-technique and add to a rotation on the defensive line, where he'll be expected to both plug the run and rush the quarterback.
But any way you slice it, Kruger has to start making plays this year or risk making himself a rare Ozzie Newsome draft bust.
The Ravens struggled to find stability at the Jack inside linebacker position opposite Ray Lewis, which had been filled for so long by Bart Scott. By the end of the year, however, Ellerbe seemed like the guy who had won the job—not so much by making plays, but by default.
Well, friend, you don't hold starting jobs on this defense through the absence of competition, and you'd better expect the Ravens to be looking for improvement at this position.
Ellerbe's position is often assigned "dirty work," so he isn't always in position to make plays, but the Ravens expect more plays when he is put in position to do so this year.
I know Suggs hates to talk about his contract, but the fact is he signed a $63 million extension with $38 million guaranteed.
The Ravens were right to give franchise-type money to Suggs, but you never know how someone is going to react when they get their first big contract. Thanks in part to injury, which admittedly hindered Suggs's play, the guy turned in a clunker last season, putting up a very pedestrian 4.5 sacks.
For what he's getting paid, Suggs should be in the conversation for Defensive Player of the Year, or at absolute minimum, getting double digit sacks—probably closer to 12 or 13. Suggs isn't hiding from the fact that he had a crappy year last season, to his credit. But if the Ravens are going to make a Super Bowl run, Suggs's revitalization needs to happen NOW.
I'm one of those people who assumes that Anquan Boldin will continue to play at a Pro Bowl level despite a change of scenery and that Derrick Mason is very much a viable No. 2 option, even at this late stage of his career.
I'm also one of those people who feels like the Ravens have two very talented swing tackles—Michael Oher and Jared Gaither—who can play on either side of the offensive line. Finally, I'm pretty sure that there isn't a football fan anywhere who would deny that Ray Rice isn't one of the top running backs in the NFL.
In other words, Joe Flacco's supporting cast is all-world. There is a very select group of teams with clearly superior talent on the offensive side as the Ravens—the Colts, the Saints, and... that might be it (some other teams are very close to the Ravens but aren't indisputably better).
Flacco played well enough as a rookie to go to the AFC title game, and improved in his sophomore season. But at some point, a GM can only surround a player with so much talent—the player himself has to make it all go. While I'm optimistic that he can, there remain doubts as to whether "Joe Cool" can be a truly elite NFL quarterback.
That's all folks, hope you enjoyed it!