Soon after their 2020 season ended with a playoff loss in Buffalo, the Ravens formulated a list of issues they hoped to address during the offseason.
In the ensuing five months, they've made many moves, added and subtracted players and coaches, set tactical changes in motion. Although they won't play a game that counts for another three months, the outline of the 2021 team is coming into view.
This week's mandatory minicamp provides the clearest snapshot yet, with a full complement of veterans on the practice field. It's a good time to take stock. How are the Ravens addressing those issues they set out to address? Are they answering their biggest questions of the offseason?
A top priority is upgrading the offensive line, which had a rough time in the playoff loss, and in fact, has struggled in every playoff loss since 2019. I agree that it was time to do something about that.
The Ravens invested $36 million in guard Kevin Zeitler and tackle Alejandro Villanueva, a pair of veterans who, barring injury, should solidify the right side, which leaked more than anyone wanted in 2020.
Bradley Bozeman's move from left guard to center should further solidify the overall unit. One of the Ravens' personnel mantras is "right player, right price." Bozeman's move feels like "right player, right time." He can handle the snaps and calls.
Questions will linger on the left side because Ronnie Stanley is recovering from a serious ankle injury and the guard job is up for grabs. But in the end, there'll be new starters at four spots, a full-on reconfiguring featuring more established players.
Although losing tackle Orlando Brown Jr. doesn't help, I think there's a good chance the Ravens will field a more consistently effective O-line in 2021 – one more suitable for the postseason, if you will.
Improving the passing game was also a top priority. Have the Ravens done enough? Those who pined for Julio Jones won't think so, but the Ravens have taken a methodical, multi-faceted approach, and there's a lot to like.
They signed Sammy Watkins and drafted Rashod Bateman and Tylan Wallace, hopeful of giving quarterback Lamar Jackson more viable targets. They brought in coaches who stress the fundamentals of route running, hopeful of better unleashing the talent of their young receivers.
Add that to cornerstones Hollywood Brown and Mark Andrews and it sure seems the pieces of a more consistent and dangerous passing game are present.
It was interesting to hear Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman explain that the pandemic made it tough to install more challenging pass-game concepts in 2020; they tried to do it on game days, he said. This year, though, they're already installing what should be the final ingredient of a pass-game upgrade.
The biggest issue on defense is the pass rush after the loss of several top edge defenders in free agency. Have they done enough to address that? It's not as clear.
Holdovers Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee and Jaylon Ferguson and newcomers Odafe Oweh and Daelin Hayes should be fine against the run and might surprise as pass rushers, but at this point, it's fair to wonder if they can generate enough pressures and sacks.
It wouldn't surprise me if the Ravens add a veteran with a track record.
Signing Jackson to a new contract was another major question the Ravens have faced in 2021. Can they get it done?
The clock really isn't ticking yet with Jackson still two seasons away from the end of his rookie deal. He wants what he deserves, but he and the team have an amicable relationship.
I've always thought it was just a matter of when they get it done, not if, even with the big dollars involved.
I'm sure the Ravens would love to finalize a mega-deal destined to impact every other deal they make going forward, but with the salary cap likely to rise in 2022, patience may be required.
Big picture, the team on the field at this week's minicamp is one of the AFC's best, especially with Jackson, now in his fourth season, becoming more of a battle-tested pro.
The Ravens wanted to put a more balanced and consistent team around him in 2021, and I'd say their efforts have them on the right track.