This time last year, the Ravens began training camp amidst a barrage of questions about Ray Rice and a string of off-field arrests that cast a dark cloud over their summer.
As the 2015 training camp officially began Wednesday in Owings Mills, the first question fired at team leader and veteran outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was about the weather.
It's been a drama-free offseason, and as Suggs said, "we're happy with it."
"Last year, it was very uncomfortable," he said. "A lot of us haven't been in a type of situation like that before. It's good to come into camp with no major negative storyline concerning us. We're ready to get after it."
This offseason, the main storylines in the weeks before camp were about whether quarterback Joe Flacco is indeed elite (an endless debate) and about how good the Ravens will be this season. Sports Illustrated's Peter King tabbed Baltimore as his top team in his first power rankings.
While the way last season ended was painful, it also gave the Ravens hope. They had the eventual Super Bowl champion New England Patriots on the ropes – twice – with a pair of 14-point deficits. Yes, the Ravens lost those leads, but that was in large part due to an injury-riddled secondary.
The secondary is healthy now and has more depth. And despite the annual salary-cap-induced loss of key veterans (wide receiver Torrey Smith, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, returner Jacoby Jones and tight end Owen Daniels) and another new offensive coordinator (Marc Trestman), the Ravens like their roster and their chances.
"The sky's the limit for us," running back Justin Forsett said. "We know we have the pieces. Now we've just got to put in the work and go out there and do our job."
A lot of the optimism centers on a talented young core thanks to strong back-to-back drafts that have positioned them for long-term success.
Linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, tight end Crockett Gillmore and more players proved themselves as rookies and will do even more as sophomores. They're joined by another promising rookie class headlined by wide receiver Breshad Perriman, tight end Maxx Williams, defensive tackle Carl Davis and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith, who should all have a role in their first year.
Baltimore pairs the young bucks with returning sage veterans and leaders at most position groups, such as Suggs, Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., linebacker Daryl Smith, defensive end Chris Canty and guard Marshal Yanda.
The straw that stirs the drink is quarterback Joe Flacco, who Head Coach John Harbaugh believes is now entering his prime. Flacco is coming off his best season and has perhaps his best collection of weapons yet to throw to.
Suggs was asked whether he thinks the Ravens have the team to make a deep run in the playoffs.
"We're going to see," he said with a grin. "We're definitely going to see.
"We all kind of know the expectations. We know where we did do great last year and we know where we finished at and fell short. We don't want to fall short. We want to keep progressing, we want to keep getting better and it starts today."
The Ravens have made the playoffs six of the past seven years. Head Coach John Harbaugh was talking to former Ravens linebacker and current scouting intern Jarret Johnson about some of that past success and how it has shaped this year's squad.
"Pardon my French – we've had some bad-ass teams around here, and that's what these guys have to understand what the standard is," Harbaugh said.
Steve Smith Sr. is entering just his second year with the team, and he's figured it out quite quickly. Smith only made his four playoff appearances in 13 seasons with the Panthers. He knows the bar is set higher in Baltimore.
Smith said he expects that he'll be playing further into January this year.
"There's a precedent set by the organization that is set by the performance year-in and year-out," Smith said during his youth football camp at Owings Mills High School Monday.
"I think the expectation is deep in the playoffs, and if there's not [a run like that], then people get the sense that it wasn't a successful season."