The 2014 offseason has been a time of transition for the Baltimore Ravens.
Head Coach John Harbaugh and General Manager Ozzie Newsome revamped the coaching staff and the roster after a frustrating 2013 season, and the Ravens are set to begin their voluntary workouts next week with expectations to return to a playoff caliber team.
Here's an overview of the biggest stories of the 2014 offseason:
1. New-Look Offense Under Gary Kubiak
Improving the offense topped the offseason priority list after a disappointing 2013 campaign where the Ravens ranked 29th in the NFL in yards per game. The first step was finding a new offensive coordinator after Jim Caldwell took the head coaching job in Detroit, and the Ravens were able to nab one of the NFL's most successful offensive minds in Gary Kubiak. His offenses have perennially been among the league's best during his time in Houston and Denver, and the Ravens hope that influence carries over to Baltimore. Kubiak is a former quarterback and also has a history of developing 1,000-yard running backs, so his arrival could pay dividends for quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice.
2. Steve Smith, Sr.'s Influence
Smith gives the Ravens the reliable chain mover they wanted. The veteran also brings a tough mentality and proven track record of success, and the Ravens are counting on him to add an edge to the receiving corps. Smith should provide a veteran influence to some of the younger targets like Torrey Smith and Marlon Brown, and he could make a big difference on the unit.
3. Franchise Left Tackle Since Jonathan Ogden
Since Hall of Famer Jonathan Ogden retired in 2007, the Ravens have been searching for their franchise left tackle. This offseason they solidified that spot by signing Eugene Monroe to a five-year deal. Monroe was arguably the team's best lineman last season after being acquired in a trade from the Jacksonville Jaguars, and he has quickly become a leader of the group. Making Monroe the long-term solution gives the Ravens much-needed stability at one of the most important positions on the field.
READ MORE:Monroe Brings Stability After Ogden
4. Fitting new pieces into the offensive line
Monroe isn't the only big story involving the offensive line, as the Ravens also traded for center Jeremy Zuttah last month. Zuttah signed a long-term deal with the Ravens after getting traded from Tampa Bay, and he is expected to be a vital cog in the middle of the line. Another key development on the line is third-year player Kelechi Osemele returning to the lineup after a back injury landed him on injured reserve last year. He's expected to start at left guard or right tackle, depending on what the Ravens do in the draft.
READ MORE:Monroe Wants 'Nasty' Osemele Back
5. Rebound after missing the playoffs
The Ravens are in an unfamiliar predicament after missing the playoffs for the first time since John Harbaugh and Flacco arrived in Baltimore in 2008. Last year's 8-8 finish was a tough pill for the Ravens to swallow, and the expectation is to get back into contention for another Lombardi Trophy. This year's group is motivated to rebound, and many of the key players are even planning to return to Baltimore for voluntary workouts to get a jump start on the preparations.
6. Overcoming off-the-field issues
This offseason has also been uncharacteristic for the Ravens in terms of dealing with off-the-field issues. Running back Ray Rice was indicted on a third-degree aggravated assault charge, wide receiver Deonte Thompson was arrested on charges of marijuana possession (which were later dismissed), and offensive lineman Jah Reid was charged with aggravated battery. The incidents have been a distraction during the offseason, and they could trickle into the regular season if the NFL ends up suspending Rice any of the three. The Ravens have stood behind the players, but not condoned their actions, and the team will look to put the issues behind it by focusing on football once they return for training camp in August.
READ MORE: Statement On Rice Indictment
7. New Backfield
Even before Rice's arrest, the Ravens wanted to add a running back to the mix this year. With Rice facing a potential suspension and Bernard Pierce coming off shoulder surgery, adding running backs has become more of a priority. The Ravens already signed former Jacksonville running back Justin Forsett, and they could continue to upgrade the position in the draft. Having additional ball carries in the backfield could push Rice and Pierce, and revitalize the group after a frustrating 2013 campaign.
8. Impact of the spending spree
The Ravens went into free agency with money to spend, and General Manager Ozzie Newsome made the most of it. He locked up Monroe, tight end Dennis Pitta, wide receiver Jacoby Jones and inside linebacker Daryl Smith. He also picked up Smith and tight end Owen Daniels, giving Flacco an abundance of targets to improve the offense. The Ravens are traditionally quiet during the offseason, but this year's spending spree broke that trend as part of an effort to return to playoff form.
READ MORE: Eisenberg: Ravens Hooked Up Flacco
9. Defense meshing
Part of the challenge for the Ravens last season was fitting together so many new pieces on the defense after losing most of their starting unit from the Super Bowl team. The Ravens have maintained their core players this offseason by re-signing Smith and extending outside linebacker Terrell Suggs' contract. Players like Suggs, Smith, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb and Matt Elam now have a year of familiarity behind them, and they expect that to pay dividends this year.
10. Players Stepping Up
Part of the routine every offseason in the NFL is that young players have to step into bigger roles, and that's the case for the Ravens. Several key positions are up for grabs, and some of the favorites for the job are already on the roster. Rick Wagner (right tackle), Chykie Brown (No. 3 cornerback), Brandon Williams (defensive end) and Jeromy Miles (free safety) are all going to compete for starting jobs during training camp. If they develop the way the Ravens expect, then they could all play critical roles in 2014.