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Eisenberg: Assessing Ravens Offseason Moves


Early July is the lull before the storm in the NFL, a few weeks of quiet before the great roar of training camp sounds, beginning the long march toward another regular season.

It's a good time to stop and take stock; to make big-picture assessments about a team's offseason moves.

I'm not into grades. I prefer to ask a couple of simple questions, the answers to which say pretty much everything:

Do you believe in what your team can accomplish in the coming season?

After all the additions and subtractions, free agency, the draft, all the hours of spring practices and minicamps, is it realistic to expect a lot?

Using that yardstick, I think it's fair to say the Ravens have had a strong offseason.

They were coming off a disappointing season by their standards, one in which they won just half of their games and fell short of the playoffs for the first time in six years, looking pretty desultory at times, especially on offense. But they've made some major changes, and it seems the locker room is optimistic and fans are excited as a new season nears.

Is that excitement legitimate or grounded in the false hope that tends to swirl around some teams in July? I say it's legit, excitement that is warranted.

Don't misunderstand: I'm not saying it's a slam-dunk certainty the Ravens will rebound from 2013 and get back to the playoffs in 2014. The league is intensely competitive, a lot has to go right, and well, stuff happens.

But what I AM saying is the Ravens have methodically sought to fix what ailed them, and made some interesting moves. There's reason to believe they could make noise in 2014.

A lot of their potential upside is tied to the rollout of their new offensive blueprint, orchestrated by Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak. It incorporates a new playbook, a new blocking scheme, a new philosophy, and several new targets for quarterback Joe Flacco, including wide receiver Steve Smith, Sr., and tight end Owen Daniels. Basically, the Ravens are starting fresh on offense - not a bad thing.

Sure, there are questions. Did they do enough to improve the offensive line, their most glaring weakness in 2013? Will Flacco play better in Kubiak's system after throwing a career-high 22 interceptions in 2013? Does Flacco have enough quality targets? Can the running game handle Ray Rice's absence early in the season if he is suspended? Is Rice capable of a bounce-back season?

Yes, the multitude of changes could lead to some sputtering, especially early in the season, but given Kubiak's history of producing yards and points as a head coach in Houston and a coordinator in Denver, there's reason for optimism. It's going to be quite interesting to watch his blueprint jump from the classroom and practice to games.

Things are more familiar on the other side of the ball, where incumbent Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees is operating with a solid veteran core led by Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith and Lardarius Webb. But at the same time, the Ravens are in the midst of a sweeping effort to get younger and more athletic on defense -- an effort the organization deemed necessary even before the Ravens won a Super Bowl in February 2013.

That plan is very much in motion now, with young guys flooding the depth chart at safety, linebacker, the interior. A whole batch of high draft picks have been thrown into the mix. As Pees pointed out in the spring, only two or three starters are left from the Super Bowl-winning defense, which is pretty amazing.

Basically, the Ravens are in transition on both sides of the ball. A lot of the old foundation has come down, and a new one is going up. But at the same time, a lot of guys who experienced a lot of winning are still around. There's no guarantee it will all come together as planned, but when the guy pulling the strings, GM Ozzie Newsome, is regarded as one of the game's best team-builders, Ravenstown is right to be amped up for the ride.

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