Expectations for the Baltimore Ravens are high.
With the firing of Brian Billick at the end of the 2008 season, no one was expecting much from then rookie head coach John Harbaugh, especially when it was announced that rookie quarterback Joe Flacco would be getting the starting job by default.
Then Hurricane Ike struck, and forced both the Houston Texans and the Ravens to take their bye week early.
Even the most die-hard fan did not have high expectations.
After starting the season with two wins against division rivals, the Ravens lost three straight, but then the unexpected happened: They started to win.
In fact, after week six, they only lost two more games all season to finish 11-5, and fought their way to an AFC Conference Championship game, which they lost to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers in a heartbreaking last minute drive.
If such an improbable season was possible with a rookie head coach and quarterback, what can we expect from a season’s worth of experience?
For one, possibly a different look on defense; the mainstay of the Baltimore Ravens.
Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan left for the head coaching position with the New York Jets. Linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard went with him.
Young stud center Jason Brown went to the St. Louis Rams.
However, they were able to keep the heart and soul of the defense, Ray Lewis, and hired a new coordinator from within, last season’s linebackers coach Greg Mattison, as well as bring in fresh talent such as defensive backs Dominique Foxworth and Chris Carr.
And then there is veteran center Matt Birk who will bring experience and strength to a young, but solid, offensive line. His leadership is sure to help, especially with the surprising move of Willie Anderson to the reserved/retired list.
With Anderson’s future uncertain, this will also place first round draft pick Michael Oher in a position to start in his first NFL season. Oher’s story continues to be the feel-good story of the year, and let’s not forget that he’s pretty good at his position, too.
The Ravens have always been known for defense, and even with a new coordinator, there is no reason to believe that will change anytime soon. However for the first time in their team history, they have the possibility of having an offense that can match in productivity.
While they may not have the same season they did last year, there’s no reason to expect that this team will be doing anything but taking steps forward. They are young and talented, and should be able to compete for years to come.