When a team's training camp opens, it's customarily time to point out what changes to expect in the coming season. I would do that now except the Ravens are going to experience a lot of changes and you probably already know them.
It's been the story of this offseason. Ray Lewis and Matt Birk have retired. Anquan Boldin, Ed Reed, Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger are wearing new uniforms. Vonta Leach, Brendon Ayanbadejo and others are gone. They're all going to be replaced.
The Ravens are facing enough changes, with perhaps as many as nine new starters, that some have suggested they're fielding an entirely new team in a way.
That's going way too far.
To underscore the fact that the Ravens will still be the Ravens, the same team you've cheered for, as familiar as their purple uniforms, let's flip the script and go over what has NOT changed about the team in 2013.
The top of the coaching staff. Head Coach John Harbaugh and both unit coordinators from the Super Bowl are back. Only one other time since Harbaugh's tenure began in 2008 have both coordinators returned.
The quarterback. Nothing cries out "new era" more than a new man under center, but
Joe Flaccohas started every game for the Ravens since 2008, and barring injury, with a $120.6 million contract in hand, he will continue to start every game for the foreseeable future. If you agree, as I do, that stability or lack of it at head coach and quarterback generally dictates the constancy of a team, the Ravens are as solid as it gets.
The offensive philosophy. There's been a lot of debate about what Offensive Coordinator Jim Caldwell might do with a full offseason to tinker. But I wouldn't expect a jaw-dropping transformation. The offense ended 2012 on a roll after Caldwell replaced Cam Cameron, finding just the right blend of running the ball, throwing deep and moving the chains. Why tinker with what worked? Oh, sure, there will be new wrinkles, but "really not that many, for the most part," Caldwell said in May.
The defensive mindset. The absence of icons Lewis and Reed won't be as bizarre as some think. Lewis sat out a lot of 2012 as it was, and although Reed played well, he wasn't an overwhelming presence. Yes, there will be plenty of new faces, but Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees will deploy them as he always does, carefully calculating when to bring the heat. I would argue that the Ravens' defense is going to be more familiar in 2013 than it was in 2012 because it should be more like its old self.
The offensive line. This group has undergone steady changes since Harbaugh's first year, when Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs, Jason Brown, Chris Chester and Willie Anderson started, and there will be another change in 2013 with Birk's retirement. But if
Gino Gradkowskireplaces him, the line will feature five starters who were in-house in 2012. There's continuity in a place that Harbaugh has frequently described as "a work in progress."
Both cornerbacks. It's true the front seven personnel has been overhauled with
Elvis Dumervil, Chris Cantyand others such as rookies Arthur Brownand Brandon Williams. It's also true that new safeties Michael Huffand Matt Elamare penciled in to roam the back end. But cornerbacks are especially crucial in today's pass-happy NFL, and no matter how the playing time/starting duties shake out with Jimmy Smith, Corey Grahamand Lardarius Webb, they're all familiar pieces for Pees. The pass coverage starts there.
The kicking game. Nothing can be more annoying for a team than problems on special teams. The Ravens excelled in 2012 with specialists
Justin Tuckerand Sam Koch, long snapper Morgan Coxand big-play return man Jacoby Jonesleading the way. They're all back for more.
The roster in general. In all, more than 50 guys who were on the active roster or practice squad in 2012 are back, including the top four scorers, top four rushers, all quarterbacks and five of the top six receivers.
New team, ha.
Yes, changes are coming, but they're still the Ravens you know.