Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome has made his considerable reputation by keeping his roster stocked with effective players that he has rightly judged to be talented enough to give the Ravens a playoff team year in and year out.
[cleeng_content id="529525332" description="Read it now!" price="0.49" t="article"]Newsome will be asked to replenish a 2012 world championship roster that has been severely depleted by retirements, trades and free agent defections. If the Ravens return to another high roost in the standings this year, Newsome should be voted the team’s most valuable player.
Gone to retirement are long-time center Matt Birk and linebacker Ray Lewis. Gone through trades or free agency are defensive backbone Ed Reed, linebackers Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger, receiver Anquan Boldin and defensive backs Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams. Vonta Leach was released. But when Leach couldn’t find another team that wanted his services on his terms he finally came back to the Ravens on Monday.
Coming back after rehabilitating injuries they incurred last season are Lardarius Webb (knee), guard Marshal Yanda (shoulder), nose tackle Haloti Ngata (knee), Terrence Cody (hip) and Jameel McClain (neck).
Newsome doesn’t have to stare into his cupboard of players and wring his hands because he finds no playmakers.
Baltimore returns its top four scorers. The top four rushers are back. And four of the six top receivers from 2012 are in training camp.
Newsome has brought in draft choices to supplement his roster.
Matt Elam, a safety, was Baltimore’s first-round pick. Arthur Brown, a linebacker, was the second-round selection.
But the Ravens will not stay afloat or slowly drown on the strength of what the draft gave them.
Elvis Dumervil was signed away from Denver to do his yearly sacking of quarterbacks. New-face defensive lineman Chris Canty has been a consistent disruptive factor during his career. Another new defensive lineman is Marcus Spears and new to the secondary is Michael Huff. Safety Matt Elam gives Coach John Harbaugh a veteran player.
What does Baltimore have back from its World Championship team?
Ray Rice has been a consistent force who factored heavily in the Ravens’ playoff success with his rushing yards. Torrey Smith has become one of the league’s more feared receivers. Joe Flacco showed some maturity, especially in the comeback win in Denver late in the playoffs. Dennis Pitta made some pressure catches at tight end down through late January and in the Super Bowl. But Pitta has been lost for the season due to a hip injury sustained in a training camp practice.
Justin Tucker, the placekicker, was mostly unerring. And linemen Yanda and Michael Oher were trusted starters.
Ngata is a capable run stopper on a defensive unit that needs outside rusher Terrell Suggs to do more than contribute the two sacks he had last season after returning from an Achilles problem.
Brandon Williams could replace Cody along the defensive front. Linebacker Courtney Upshaw had ballooned to 295 when he reported to the team’s final mini camp but has dropped 20 pounds coming into this week’s training camp.
Jacoby Jones had game-changing returns during the long playoff run and he could figure in Harbaugh’s plans concerning Boldin’s replacement at wide receiver.
Birk’s moving to retirement could be a major concern, especially if Gino Gradkowski doesn’t do well at center.
Aging offensive lineman Bryant McKinnie reports to training camp as insurance against the probable injuries to come.
With Leach gone, the first fullback to be given his chance to start could be Kyle Juszczyk.
The list of cornerbacks includes Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham and Webb.
Of course the schedule given the defending Super Bowl champions will be stocked with playoff teams … not even counting division rivals Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Cleveland.
Newsome has often waited until just before the regular season begins to make his last chessboard player move. With so many new faces in camp … and so many trusted players missing, it would be at least a mild upset if he doesn’t find it necessary to bring in a veteran unsigned free agent or take on one or more players released by other teams.
Baltimore hasn’t been susceptible to failure during Ozzie Newsome’s watch. It would be surprising if the Ravens fell from the sky this season.[/cleeng_content]