AFC North preview: Baltimore Ravens

Baltimore Ravens
2012: 10-6, 1st in AFC North, Super Bowl champs

Head coach: John Harbaugh
Offensive coordinator: Jim Caldwell
Defensive coordinator: Dean Press

Ending their 2012 season with a Super Bowl victory over the San Francisco 49ers, the Ravens reached the pinnacle of pro football success last year. Like many before them however, Baltimore has a tough road ahead if they plan to defend their title.

Despite the fact that each of the past seven Super Bowl winners have failed to win a playoff game the year following their victory, the Ravens also lost several key ingredients to their past success due to a variety of reasons.

The losses of LB Ray Lewis (retired), C Matt Birk (retired), S Ed Reed (Houston), WR Anquan Boldin (SF), LB Dannell Ellerbe (Miami), LB Paul Kruger (Cleveland), CB Cary Williams (Philadelphia), S Bernard Pollard (Tennessee), NT Ma’ake Keomeatu (FA), S Sean Considine (retired), S Emmanuel Cook (FA), DE Ryan McBean (FA), and G Bobbie Williams (FA), have left many wondering if the NFL’s most recent champ has been forced to begin rebuilding.

Still, there are those in the know such as ESPN’s Jamison Hensley and CBS’s Jason La Canfora, who believe that the Ravens are a long way from AFC irrelevancy and despite their numerous losses, predict an 11-5 finish followed by a return trip to the postseason, Baltimore’s sixth straight.

With the Cincinnati Bengals expected to continue their progression into a perennial playoff contender, a Pittsburgh Steelers franchise that’s still too experienced to ignore, and a Cleveland Browns team that’s only a couple of years away from competing in the AFC, Baltimore will once again have to navigate through a tough division schedule before they’re truly able to focus on what they must do in order to repeat as NFL champions.

The following doesn’t include any special teams related information because with the exception of a few, key players, the majority of special teams units won’t be completed until just prior to the start of the regular season.


From the moment he became the Ravens starting quarterback as a rookie in 2008, Joe Flacco has definitely had his share of critics and armchair experts who have doubted his abilities at every turn.

Now a Super Bowl champion, the sixth-year quarterback has proven his durability and after a successful 2012 campaign in which he totaled 3,817 yards with 22 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, the former University of Delaware star pivot heads into 2013 as one of the NFL’s best at his position.

Returning for his third year as the Ravens backup quarterback, Tyrod Taylor has never made a start in his NFL career, a testament to Flacco’s durability, and is currently dealing with a concussion which caused him to miss Baltimore’s final preseason contest. Also in camp, Caleb Hanie and Dayne Crist were attempting to make the team as the third string quarterbacks, but were cut prior to Saturday’s deadline.

At running back, Ray Rice is projected to have another productive season as one of the league’s most talented ball carriers after rushing for 1,143 yards with nine touchdowns last season. Second on the team with 61 receptions in 2012, Rice is a versatile back who will once again play a large role in Baltimore’s offensive attack.

Expected to have an increased role in the ground game this season, Bernard Pierce will be the Ravens second option at running back. Bobby Rainey, who ran for two touchdowns against the Rams on Thursday, looks to have survived the most recent roster cuts and would be the third string back if he in fact makes the team.

At fullback, pro-bowler Vonta Leach returns to the Baltimore backfield after many thought he would depart during this past off-season, while 2013 fourth-round draft pick Kyle Juszczyk will be available as the primary backup.

Starting the season as the Ravens top wide receiver, Torrey Smith is expected to improve upon his 49 receptions, 855 yards, and eight touchdowns from last season. Averaging 17.4 yards per reception, Smith has the potential to be a productive lead wideout and with the departure of Anquan Boldin to the 49ers, 2013 presents a huge opportunity for the former Maryland Terrapin.

Opposite Smith, Jacoby Jones will begin the season as the starter and is likely to play a dual role as Baltimore’s resident return specialist. Currently listed as the third option, veteran Brandon Stokley brings some valuable experience to the group after spending the 2012 campaign as a member of the Denver Broncos.

Undrafted rookie Marlon Brown has impressed during training camp on the way to becoming a favorite of the coaching staff, and after hauling in a touchdown during Baltimore’s preseason finale in St. Louis, may have played his way onto the roster. Also competing for a spot on the Ravens, Aaron Mellette, former fourth-round draft pick Tandon Doss, former Florida Gator Deonte Thompson, and LaQuan Williams, who may hold a slight edge over the others due to his role on special teams.

After losing starting tight end Dennis Pitta to a hip injury during the start of training camp, Baltimore will be forced to find a realistic way to replace his offensive contributions. Veteran tight end Dallas Clark has survived the most recent roster cuts and after the Ravens parted ways with Visanthe Shiancoe, is expected to make the team as the second option at tight end.  As of now, fourth-year pro Ed Dickson is the projected starter and totaled 21 receptions for 225 yards in 11 starts last season.

Starting at left tackle, former Pro Bowler and 12-year vet Bryant McKinnie will start, while rookie Rick Wagner will begin the year as the primary backup. Opposite McKinnie at right tackle, Michael Oher returns as the starter and will have rookie JJ Unga available in a supporting role.

At left guard, second-year Kelechi Osemele returns after starting 16 games as a rookie in 2012, and currently, the Ravens don’t have a backup listed on their depth chart for the position.

Seven-year vet, Marshal Yanda returns to start at right guard and improves the offensive line with his presence. Currently listed as the lead reserve, Jah Reid saw action in nine games last season which included seven starts.

Replacing the retired Matt Birk, second-year center Gino Gradkowski is projected to begin the year at the top of the depth chart, while AQ Shipley is listed as the primary backup despite his unimpressive performance throughout the majority of training camp. Shipley should still be considered a possible candidate to get cut when the roster is trimmed down to its 53 player maximum on August 31st.


Based upon a 3-4 defense, newly-acquired defensive end Chris Canty will start on the left, while another of Baltimore’s off-season defensive additions, Marcus Spears, will begin the season as the second option behind Canty. At right defensive end, Arthur Jones registered four and a half sacks in 2012, and will have rookie Brandon Williams available in a reserve role.

Returning to anchor the defensive line, Haloti Ngata totaled five sacks in 14 games last season and will be supported by fourth-year Terrence Cody, who had three starts in 15 games during 2012,

Without their on-field leader Ray Lewis, as well as the team’s leader in sacks last season Paul Kruger, the linebacking corps has undergone a dramatic facelift in preparation of the 2013 season.

Starting at right outside linebacker, Baltimore’s top offseason acquisition Elvis Dumervil, is expected to make an immediate impact, while second-year Courtney Upshaw, who tallied 60 combined tackles in 16 games last season, will compete for playing time and is a solid second option.

Starting opposite Dumervil at left outside linebacker, veteran Terrell Suggs will now assume the role of on-field defensive leader, and has third-year Pernell McPhee available as the lead reserve after playing in 12 games last season.

On the inside, Josh Bynes played in 10 games last season, and is expected to start with Jameel McClain out due to injury. Rookie linebacker Arthur Brown who played his college football at Kansas State University, will get an opportunity to move up on the depth chart in his first year as a pro.

Starting at right inside linebacker, newly acquired veteran Daryl Smith will play an important role as Lewis’ replacement, and in a supporting role, Albert McClellan will be available after registering 49 combined tackles in 14 games last season.

Ladarius Webb is returning from a torn ACL that limited him to just six games in 2012, and is expected to start at left cornerback in his fifth year as a pro. Third-year pro Jimmy Smith totaled 34 combined tackles in 11 games of action in 2012 and is currently listed as the second option behind Webb.

Starting at right cornerback, Cory Graham played in 16 games, eight of them starts, last season as a rookie, while third-year corner Chykie Brown is expected to be the primary backup.

Seven-year veteran free safety Michael Huff is expected to start after spending the 2012 season as a member of the Oakland Raiders. Second-year free safety Omar Brown played his college football at Marshall University, and is the lead reserve after seeing action in only three games a year ago.

Starting at strong safety in his first year with the Ravens, James Ihedigbo saw action in all 16 games during the 2012 season as a member of the New England Patriots, while rookie Matt Elam who has done well in his first NFL training camp, will begin 2013 in a reserve role.

Friday’s Roster Cuts

RB Anthony Allen
CB Marc Anthony
QB Caleb Hanie
QB Dayne Crist
CB Nigel Carr
RB Delone Carter
LB Brandon Copeland
T Jordan Devey
T Rogers Gaines
TE Alex Silvestro
C Reggie Stephens

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