Last offseason, the Ravens' primary focus was offensive line improvement. It returned the following season to be one of the league's most dominant units.
If Baltimore's secondary can have the same rebound, watch out.
"I don't think there's going to be any doubt that we're going to be so much better than we were last year," Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said after Monday's Organized Team Activities (OTAs) practice.
The Ravens gave up 249 passing yards per game last season, tied for ninth most in the league. They had 11 interceptions, tied for the seventh fewest.
In the end, the secondary was largely the Ravens' undoing.
Baltimore put up 31 points against New England in the AFC divisional round. The Ravens held the Patriots to a paltry 14 rushing yards on 13 carries. However, Tom Brady threw 50 times for 367 yards against the secondary, dinking and dunking his way down the field, to overcome two 14-point deficits.
The Ravens secondary will be greatly boosted if it can stay healthy, first and foremost. That was the biggest problem last season.
Starting cornerback Lardarius Webb sat out, essentially, the first four games. Starter Jimmy Smith suffered a season-ending foot injury in Week 8, halfway through the regular season. Nickel cornerback Asa Jackson missed seven games due to a toe injury, then was knocked out for the rest of the year in Week 15. Undrafted rookie cornerback Tramain Jacobs landed on injured reserve with a thigh injury.
The Ravens had to convert safety Anthony Levine to cornerback and started Rashaan Melvin, who was signed off Miami's practice squad just a couple months earlier, against Brady and company in the playoffs.
So if Baltimore can simply stay healthy, particularly with starters Smith and Webb, it should lead to drastically better results.
The silver lining of last year's injuries, however, is that it led to young players getting more experience. Adding that with the team's signings of veteran safety Kendrick Lewis and veteran cornerback Kyle Arrington, gives the Ravens a lot more depth.
"I just really feel like there's a lot of depth back there, and I think what's really going to make it good is the competition," he said. "I don't think anybody's just got a spot locked up. I think everybody's got to compete and compete at the highest level, and I think they will."
Webb and Smith are the men to beat for starting cornerback spots, while the No. 3 job is more up in the air. Arrington, Jackson, and Melvin would seemingly be the favorites, but they'll get pushed by rookie fourth-round pick Tray Walker, Chris Greenwood, Cassius Vaughn, Jacobs and undrafted rookie Quinton Pointer.
The starting safeties are more undecided than cornerbacks. Will Hill, Matt Elam and Lewis are all the leaders for two spots, with Levine, Brynden Trawick, Terrence Brooks and undrafted rookie Nick Perry all battling as well.
"We have tremendous competition on this defense – more than I've ever seen across the board at a lot of different spots," Pees said.
It's difficult to evaluate where the defensive backs stand in their progress during Organized Team Activities (OTAs) because contact isn't allowed and even challenging the ball too vigorously is discouraged. Defensive backs have to back off. But Pees has seen better results from what he can judge.
"I think we've had less big balls thrown on us in this camp than in a lot camps," he said.