Ravens Front Office Strikes Big With Offseason Moves


In many ways, the Ravens have a new starring cast this season.

The team's leading rusher, receiver, tackler and play caller are all new to Baltimore. And the new additions are a big reason why the Ravens are currently sitting atop the AFC North standings.

The fresh faces have adjusted well to life in Charm City, and the immediate impact they've made on the field shows that the Ravens' front office had another impressive offseason.

"I'm impressed, yes. Not surprised" Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "Those guys are excellent players, and that's what we were planning on."

The newcomers have arrived from a variety of backgrounds.

Veteran receiver Steve Smith Sr. and tight end Owen Daniels came to town after getting cut by teams where they had established long, productive careers.

Running back Justin Forsett was cast off by a few teams before landing in Baltimore as an expected role player, and then ultimately taking over the starting job. Center Jeremy Zuttah came as part of a shrewd trade by General Manager Ozzie Newsome, who made it a priority to strengthen the interior of the offseason line this offseason.

Linebacker C.J. Mosley was drafted with the team's highest pick in the last eight years, and arrived with expectations to become the long-term anchor in the middle of the defense. He immediately became a starter, and is one of six rookies currently getting significant playing time.

Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak decided to join Harbaugh's staff instead of taking time away from the game after he was fired by the Houston Texans.

In total, the Ravens have 20 players on the 53-man roster who weren't with the team last season, in addition to an entirely new offensive coaching staff.

"C'mon, the fact that all of that has happened and we've still been able to win games is pretty impressive," quarterback Joe Flacco said. "We have new people. We've had to play with rookies. We've had to bring up practice squad guys. The fact that we have that depth and the fact that we have those guys on our team is pretty impressive."

The veteran additions to the roster have made the most noticeable difference through the first seven games of the year.

Smith burst onto the scene and has been one of the best receivers in football. He leads the Ravens with 38 catches for 640 yards and four touchdowns, and is on pace for the best season he's had in years.

Daniels has a similar story.

The former Texan joined his previous head coach in Baltimore and quickly developed a rapport with Flacco. He was instrumental in helping his teammates learn Kubiak's offense, and he immediately stepped into an elevated role when Dennis Pitta was lost for the season. Daniels has had no problem picking up the slack, and he has 27 catches for 275 yards and three scores.

"Owen and Steve have proven to be really key players for us," Flacco said. "They catch the ball and they get open – it's really simple."

While the signing of Smith and Daniels drew plenty of fanfare, Forsett's arrival went under the radar. The seven-year veteran hadn't rushed for more than 500 yards since 2010, and he had started just seven games in his career. Many speculated that he was occupying a roster spot until Ray Rice returned from a two-game suspension.

But the Ravens ultimately cut Rice, and Forsett proved he was much more than a placeholder. He's a top-five rusher in the NFL with 87 carries for 503 yards, and has the league's best yards per carry average at 5.8.

"Forsett is a good back and this is the best opportunity he's had in the league to prove himself and play," Flacco said. "With our running back situation, we didn't even know what it was going to be like until the last second.  So the fact that we have been so good at that position is pretty impressive."

For as much as the players deserve credit for the strong start, Kubiak's system has transformed Baltimore's offense. Flacco is on pace for a career season, and the Ravens are on track to have a top-10 offense for the first time since 1996.

Kubiak commanded instant respect from the time he arrived in January, and the players quickly adapted to his system.

"I really do think that the way Gary has been calling the game is allowing us to play fast and not think about a lot of things," Flacco said. "It's just so understated, the fact that you can go out there and not have to worry about five different things on a play. You can worry about one or two things and go out there and do your job. You can worry about playing football. You can worry about playing physical."

The focus now for the Ravens is to continue the momentum built in the first seven games to carry into the second half of the season. The message from players and coaches throughout the week is that they can't celebrate anything yet, especially with a key game looming against the Bengals.

"I guess we're doing good. At the end of the day, it's all evaluated on how well we do in the end, how far we go," Smith said. "So to throw a party right now, I think, is premature. I think we just have to keep grinding out, and keep trying to build, and build on playing like a Raven."

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