After watching the Ravens’ open-to-the-media Organized Team Activity practice Thursday at the Under Armour Performance Center, I feel compelled to offer a warning to fans.
These aren’t your father’s Ravens. In fact, they aren’t even your Ravens – not the ones you’re so familiar with, anyway.
Oh, plenty about them is still the same. But a lot is different. I mean, a whole lot.
On offense, there’s a new blueprint, a new quarterback, several new running backs and many new wide receivers. (OK, the quarterback, Lamar Jackson, has started since last November. But you know what I mean.)
On defense, close to half of the starters will be different from a year ago. Many of the unit’s leaders from 2018 now play elsewhere.
I’m telling you … prepare yourself.
You might think you’re ready to embrace the team with these many changes, all of which have been reported and exhaustively dissected. But no matter how ready you think you are, it’s jarring to watch practice and fully comprehend the scope of how much is new and different.
Yes, all NFL teams undergo change every year, mostly due to the salary cap and an influx of new blood from the draft. Between 15 and 20 percent of a roster can be expected to turn over every 12 months.
But there’s a difference between standard-issue roster evolution and comprehensive philosophical change. The Ravens are experiencing the latter, a not-insignificant transition.
They began to look and feel different last season with a new quarterback and new defensive coordinator. The process is continuing in 2019 with a new offensive coordinator and major roster upheaval resulting in a greater emphasis on speed.
I’m pretty sure it’ll still feel like a new day is dawning in 2020 when several expensive contracts come off the books, giving the Ravens far more salary cap room than they’ve had in years.
Granted, OTA workouts are always good for prompting the feeling that change is enveloping a franchise. Many familiar veterans are still on the team but either don’t attend or aren’t on the field. Rookies and other young players dominate the sessions.
The Ravens’ young-guy population is so sprawling this year that Head Coach John Harbaugh conceded Thursday he didn’t know all of the names. Jackson, a young guy himself, just 22, confessed to knowing only the uniform numbers of some receivers he targeted.
As noted, there were enough familiar sights sprinkled in that one knew this was the Ravens. Justin Tucker and his Wolfpack prowled a distant field. Nick Boyle caught a pass and barreled down the field. Ronnie Stanley and Orlando Brown Jr. provided bookends for the offensive line. Harbaugh ran practice.
When veterans such as Tony Jefferson, Marshal Yanda, Jimmy Smith, Matthew Judon, Michael Pierce and Brandon Williams return to the field later this spring (none practiced Thursday), there’ll be no mistaking this is the Ravens – even without Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley.
Nonetheless, the difference in the 2019 team was evident Thursday when Mark Ingram II carried the ball, Seth Roberts and Michael Floyd caught passes, Daylon Mack manned the middle of the defense, and of course, Jackson operated the starting offense.
The volume of change will become more evident later when Earl Thomas takes control of the secondary and top-pick Marquise (Hollywood) Brown joins the offense. Both are recovering from injuries.
Can a team experiencing so much change win games, make the playoffs and contend for a title? It’s a fair question. Whatever puzzle the Ravens are assembling, they’re still gathering pieces.
But they won a division title a year ago and certainly don’t believe limitations should be placed on them in 2019 simply because so much is different.
Yes, they’ve subtracted a lot of veteran talent. But they’ve added playmakers on both sides of the ball. They’re younger, faster. There’s no telling how things will work out, but there’s no reason why they can’t match and/or exceed what they accomplished last year.