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Eisenberg: Ravens Believe They're Building Something Special


Leave it to a newcomer to offer what I think is an on-point assessment of the Ravens as their offseason nears an end.

"With me coming here, and with what was already here, it felt like a team that could definitely win and build something special," said Jeremy Maclin, the Ravens' newest receiver, in his introductory session with the Baltimore media earlier this week.

Please note, he didn't "call a shot" and say it was a slam-dunk certainty Baltimore would return to the playoffs after going 8-8 in 2016. Players can make such overheated pronouncements after a team gives them a decent contract, as the Ravens did with Maclin, but it seems Maclin, 29, has been around long enough to know better.

Instead, he simply related his observation that it "felt like" the Ravens are putting together a team with genuine potential.

I agree. The Ravens have endured some losses and made some gains since they ended the [ADD] 2016 season out of the playoffs for the third time in four years. But the net result is progress.

Big picture, they're better equipped to win games than they were last season.

That's always an organization's goal in the offseason, of course: improve. But it doesn't always happen, and between linebacker Zach Orr's shocking retirement due to a spinal condition at age 24 and tight end Dennis Pitta's latest hip injury, the Ravens lost their leading tackler and leading pass catcher from 2016, making overall improvement that much harder to engineer.

Nonetheless, there are reasons to be optimistic about what might unfold in 2017.

Defensively, the secondary, bolstered by free agent signings and a high draft pick, might be one of the NFL's best. The Ravens are counting on it not giving away leads late in games, as it did several times last season.

Also on that side of the ball, the draft has helped inject interesting young talent throughout the depth chart, and Brandon Williams' return solidified the unit's spine, with C.J. Mosley, Eric Weddle and Tony Jefferson lined up behind him.

Offensively, things are less clear after the loss of five starters either through free agency, retirement, injury or trade. That's a lot of turnover, with some good players out the door.

But there are encouraging signs on offense. Joe Flacco, upon whom so much depends, is moving much more confidently in his second year back from a major knee injury. Breshad Perriman dominated the spring season of practices at the Under Armour Performance Center. Maclin's signing, a key move, adds a proven difference-maker. It was clear in the practices that Flacco already has great chemistry with Danny Woodhead, the team's new running back.

It's still not clear how things will shake out on the offensive line, which is down two starters from a year ago. Is there enough talent on hand or does the organization need to add a veteran starter? We'll see.

We'll also see about pending positional battles along the defensive front and at tight end, just to name a few. How various players bounce back from injuries could prove important.

But remember the lack of playmakers everyone was moaning about after the 2016 season? The additions of Woodhead and especially Maclin, along with Perriman's promise, could deliver what's needed. And as Weddle noted to reporters Thursday, the stronger secondary was making many more plays on the ball during spring practices.

Listen, I know, it's only June. The Ravens haven't lost a game or hit anyone in months. Many hurdles still need to be cleared.

But listen to what Maclin said when asked how his now-teammates tried to recruit him on his visit to Baltimore the week before he signed.

"They were able to let me know what's going on here," he said, "and the fact that they want to get back to something special. They believe that they have that. They believe I can be a big part of that."

The Ravens do believe, it seems, and after the disappointments of 2016, that's a good place to start.

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