What We've Learned About the Baltimore Ravens so Far This Preseason

Chris Trapasso@ChrisTrapassoAnalyst IAugust 16, 2013

OWINGS MILLS, MD - MAY 05:  Head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens speaks with general manager Ozzie Newsome after a practice during the Baltimore Ravens rookie camp on May 5, 2013 in Owings Mills, Maryland.  (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Baltimore Ravens GM Ozzie Newsome deserves a break, but he's not going to get one in the NFL.

In a perfect world, the two-time Super Bowl-winning executive would have been able to spend the 2013 offseason at ease—celebrating, enjoying and simply relaxing—after the team he assembled in 2012 shocked the world and won the Vince Lombardi trophy.

While Newsome likely relished his latest triumph, he couldn't squander much time because he needed to construct this year's roster in Baltimore. 

The Ravens lost the following players after Super Bowl Sunday: 

But Newsome didn't panic. 

After rewarding Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco with a monster contract—one with $52 million guaranteed— Newsome took a cost-effective approach to the way he'd replace key contributors from the title team.  

Here's a look at the newcomers the Ravens acquired as they made their way into the preseason: 

Not a bad group, right?

Smith, who was ProFootballFocus' No. 2-rated inside linebacker in 2011, has already made waves during Baltimore's training camp:

Coach John Harbaugh says ILB Daryl Smith has already become the #Ravens "quarterback of the defense": http://t.co/LnGfzTUuyr

— Evan Silva (@evansilva) August 10, 2013

After the loss of iconic players like Ed Reed and Ray Lewis, April's draft was bound to be as vital as any in recent memory. 

Newsome came away with 10 prospects, and he used his first two selections—go figure—to address the safety and inside linebacker positions:

Elam is a hard-hitting safety who showed decent range at the University of Florida, and Brown was a favorite within the vast draftnik community. 

While the additions will be a major storyline this season, returning veterans like Flacco, Ray Rice, Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs remain franchise cornerstones. 

Flacco's memorable 11-touchdown, zero-interception playoff run was likely a major bargaining chip at the negotiating table this March, and the newly minted doesn't have much to prove, especially in August.

He's gotten off to a respectable start through two exhibition games:

Flacco, who's now entering his sixth professional season, will have his work cut out for him without the strong hands of Anquan Boldin and reliable tight end Dennis Pitta, who dislocated his hip and is out for the year. 

However, don't tell that to Torrey Smith

The third-year pro snagged two passes for 85 yards against the Atlanta Falcons, which included this 77-yard exhibit of his unadulterated speed and acceleration:

Dallas Clark and Brandon Stokley aren't the players they once were but together should able to at least come close to replacing Pitta's production in the short-to-intermediate, possession passing game. 

Before Flacco's postseason eruption, Ray Rice was Baltimore's unequivocal offensive focal point and remains a vital facet of the team's attack. 

Although he hasn't missed a game since 2008, the 26-year-old has logged 1,527 touches over the last five seasons. 

His backup, 2012 third-round pick Bernard Pierce, could shoulder more of the load in 2013, a development that could increase Baltimore's run-game efficiency and keep Rice fresh throughout the season. 

The former Temple star averaged 4.8 yards per carry on 108 regular-season rushes as a rookie, and that average jumped to 5.18 on 39 carries in the postseason.

Here's how the two have performed thus far in the preseason:

But don't let Rice's early preseason struggles be deceiving.

Baltimore Sun writer Aaron Wilson wrote Pierce has "bulked up 10 pounds since last season to 228 pounds" but "Rice remains entrenched as the featured back. He did note that "Pierce's workload is expected to increase this year."

Rice has finished with at least 1,621 yards from scrimmage and no fewer than 318 touches per season since his sophomore NFL campaign in 2008.

With more of a balance on the ground, the Ravens could field one of the AFC's most effective running games this season, which would make life easier for Flacco and the Co. in the passing game.

Some analysts, prognosticators, and fans of other AFC North teams envision a precipitous fall from grace for the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2013, but just remember who their GM is before making a prediction of your own.


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