The first wave of the offseason has passed, and the NFL Draft is now less than a month away.
The Ravens have been busy working to build another Super Bowl team, and in the process have lost key players to retirement, free agency, or salary cap casualties.
Many of the top questions at the start of the offseason have already been answered, and that's opened up a new set of questions for the Ravens.
What changes with Joe Flacco as the new team leader?The top priority for the Ravens heading into the offseason was to lock up Flacco to a long-term contract. The Ravens took care of that before the start of free agency by inking him to a six-year deal. That contract not only made Flacco the highest-paid player in NFL history, but it also made him the clear leader in the locker room. With Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Matt Birk and Anquan Boldin all gone, the responsibility will fall on Flacco to lead the defending Super Bowl champs. Flacco has a much different personality than Lewis, the team's heart and soul for the last 17 seasons, and he doesn't plan on changing in an effort to mimic Lewis' style. It will be a much different locker room and that transition will continue to take shape over the next few weeks when the team begins offseason workouts that Flacco plans to attend.
How will the reconfigured defensive line mesh?The performance of the defensive line was not up to expectations last season, as the group battled through numerous injuries and finished the season ranked 20th against the run. General Manager Ozzie Newsome came into the offseason focused on upgrading the line, and he's done so by adding versatile linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil and re-signing Arthur Jones as a restricted free agent. Canty and Spears can play multiple positions along the line, and the hope is that increasing the depth up front will allow Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to stay healthy and play at a high level throughout the season. The battle for starting jobs is expected to be tight throughout training camp, with Spears, Canty, Jones, Pernell McPhee, Terrence Cody and DeAngelo Tyson all vying for time.
Is Torrey Smith ready to be the No. 1 receiver?When the Ravens dealt Boldin to the San Francisco 49ers, the responsibility to lead the receiving corps was quickly placed on Smith's shoulders. The third-year receiver has learned from Boldin for the last two seasons, and now he's expected to take on a larger role in the offense in both production and leadership. Boldin has been the Ravens leading receiver for the last three years and he carried the passing game during last season's postseason run. Smith has developed into more than just a downfield threat that can take the top off defenses, and he will have to continue adding layers to his game to make up for the loss of Boldin.
What moves will be made to solidify the offensive line?One area the Ravens have yet to address is the offensive line, which was in flux throughout last season. Veteran left tackle Bryant McKinnie is still available on the free agent market after playing well during the postseason, and the Ravens could also look to the draft to bring in young talent. Deciding whether to bring back McKinnie or go in a different direction will impact the entire line, as Michael Oher could return to left tackle and Kelechi Osemele to right tackle, which was the lineup throughout the regular season. Re-singing McKinnie would put Oher at right tackle and Osemele at left guard. The Ravens also have to replace Birk, as second-year center Gino Gradkowski is poised to take over the starting job. Gradkowski is the only center currently on the roster, so the Ravens will still have to add at least one more center before training camp.
How does Dumervil change the defense?The biggest coup of the offseason was signing Dumervil after the Broncos released him following a bizarre fax snafu. Dumervil has been one of the best pass rushers in the NFL over his eight-year career, and is considered an upgrade over departed free agent linebacker Paul Kruger, who signed with the Browns. Dumervil is expected to energize the pass rush, along with 2011 Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. Depending on who makes the final roster, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said he could put Suggs, Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw, on the field at the same time. One option is to try to move Upshaw to inside linebacker and to get him and Dumervil on the field together. Dumervil's arrival in Baltimore should help Suggs, who battled through serious injuries last season and had a down year by his standards. Bringing Dumervil into the fold will take some attention away from Suggs, and could go a long way in rebuilding the defense.