Newsome Excited, Praises Harbs And New Offense
"We feel pretty good right now. We could tweak the roster a little between now and the start of the regular season, but, overall, we accomplished a lot since the end of last season," General Manager Ozzie Newsome explained a few days ago.
While orchestrating the roster, including the draft, Newsome watched every practice the Ravens performed since the offseason workouts began in late April. "We weren't good enough last season. We had to find a way to get better, and we think we did."
Asked for the biggest improvement, Ozzie didn't hesitate. "We'll be better on offense. I really like Gary's (Kubiak) schemes. It's very precise. It's physical. I think we'll run the ball better, we'll keep the ball more and we'll have big plays. You can tell the players, especially guys like Joe
(Flacco), like it – and they can see that we have a good chance to be a lot better," Newsome said.
Last season, the Ravens offense sputtered. There was the hip injury to tight end Dennis Pitta, a hip issue for running back Ray Rice that the Pro Bowler battled all season, and there were problems on the offensive line. Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda was not the same, especially early in the season after having rotator cuff surgery following the 2012 Super Bowl campaign. Left guard Kelechi Osemele tried hard, but succumbed to back surgery after a valiant effort through the first six games. Receiver-returner Jacoby Jones missed four early contests with knee troubles. Flacco was forced to try and create a lot more plays. It was difficult, as we all witnessed.
"It was tough for the offense, much more than we anticipated. The lack of weapons really hurt at times," Newsome recalled.
"Now, the offensive line is better. Getting Eugene (Monroe) and signing him to a new contract gives us the left tackle you have to have. Trading for (Jeremy) Zuttah is a bonus and we like everything we've seen from him. He's a good player and leader, too. Having a healthy Yanda is big and, so far, Kelechi looks like he's ready for big things," Newsome said.
Of course, a healthy Pitta is back and we've added Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels. Rice has changed his body and appears ready to return to his Pro Bowl form. (We wait, like you, to see if the NFL Commissioner will suspend Rice for any games.) The addition of Steve Smith Sr., a five-time Pro Bowl receiver, has all of us smiling. You didn't have to be a football savant when watching offseason practices to see that Smith is still special.
The Jupiter Summit
The groundwork for much of what the Ravens accomplished this offseason came from meetings Steve Bisciotti held at his Jupiter, Fla. home on the weekend of Jan. 10. Newsome, John Harbaugh, Dick Cass, Eric DeCosta and Pat Moriarty attended. "We came out of there with a wish list of things we wanted to get done," Newsome said.
Here's the bulk of that list with Ozzie's comments:
• Extend the contracts of Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata. "We wanted two things from these contracts. The first is to create some cap room and the other is to try and make sure these two players remained Ravens forever. We got 'Sizzle' done and we're still hopeful with Haloti."
• Sign new contracts with Eugene Monroe, Jacoby Jones, Daryl Smith, Corey Graham and Dennis Pitta. "We lost Corey when we thought we could get him, but Buffalo paid a premium. We knew we couldn't sign Arthur Jones. He earned a huge salary and the Colts gave it to him. We couldn't go there and sign other players we needed. The $10 million increase in the salary cap helped us get the others done."
• Look hard at the coaching staff. "John always reviews his staff with a keen eye, but we were up in the air for a while because of Jim's (Caldwell) status. He was interviewing for head jobs and we knew he would be gone if he got an offer. When the Lions named him head coach, that changed what John wanted to do."
(Aside: When I asked Ozzie what impressed him the most about the Ravens' offseason, he said: "John's search for a new offensive coordinator. He was tireless. He was as thorough as any person could be. He interviewed. He cross-checked. It was exhausting just to watch. And, all that work led him to Gary. John then made hard decisions about a few of his coaches ... men who are his friends and helped us win the Super Bowl. He did all of this to make sure we would be in the best position to win. It was really impressive.")
• Find another play-making receiver. "We landed Steve, who is not your typical aging player. He's a special competitor, driven to show everyone he can play at a high level. You saw him during the camps. He's going to help."
• Add depth to the interior of the offensive line. "Getting Zuttah was a bonus. He wasn't on the front burner at the beginning of the offseason. But, like Steve Smith, he was on a list we've developed of guys who are late in their contracts and might be available. We asked the question and they (Tampa Bay) were willing to move him. He's a good player."
• Improve and add depth to the inside linebacker position. "It was important to re-sign Daryl Smith. We drafted C.J. (Mosley) and Arthur Brown looks ready to jump to another level."
• Extend contracts of Torrey and Jimmy Smith, and Justin Tucker. "We're trying to get these done, but we haven't yet."
• Improve the overall depth of the team. "We like our depth. If we have injuries at most positions, our replacements are already in the building."
Newsome added that "you have to have players who can win one-on-one battles in the fourth quarter to beat good teams. We added one with Steve Smith and re-signed Pitta and Jacoby. Daniels can do that, and we know Joe can do it. I like what I've seen from Ray Rice. We'll get the best of what he has. On defense, Suggs and Haloti are difference makers and so are the corners (Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith). Elvis (Dumervil) is in that category. C.J. (Mosley) and Daryl (Smith) can make big plays." Ozzie noted that he also likes what he sees from former Rams safety Darian Stewart.
Newsome was the first in our organization to use the phrase: "Play like a Raven." When he was building our first Super Bowl team, Ozzie would say: "We want players who play like a Raven." One of the key characteristics we want in our Ravens is players with a heightened zeal to compete. Winning, losing, in the playoff hunt or not, the Ravens are known for battling to the finish. Our players are relentless competitors.
We've spent an offseason answering questions about not making the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. We deserve and earned those questions … but nobody likes to be continually reminded and those reminders serve as inspiration. Last week, reporters asked Yanda "about failing last season." Marshal's eyes stared at the reporter and he firmly said: "I'm not talking about last season. We can't do anything about it." Flacco and Suggs had similar responses.
The final question Coach Harbaugh answered after last week's minicamp was another: "Can the Ravens bounce back from a non-playoff season?" John looked at the ground, then at the reporter and said: "Keep hammering that. Just keep hammering it. It's good for us to hear it. Keep beating the crap out of us with it. It's okay…it's motivating."
We're motivated. Training camp is around the corner. We're getting closer to a new season.
We'll be ready. Talk to you in a few weeks,