The Ravens defense that walked out of the New Orleans Superdome didn't stay together long.
After a makeover this offseason, in which seven starters either departed or retired, the gelling of Baltimore's new look unit is an essential part of this summer.
Consider the first test passed, as the defense ended minicamp walking tall with back-to-back days in which it bested the offense in 11-on-11 drills.
By the end of the three highly competitive days, the Ravens' defensive swagger was apparent. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs was whooping, rookie safety Matt Elam was posing and the defensive front was scuffling with offensive linemen.
"The defense did really well. We started to come together," cornerback Corey Graham said. "We got potential to be a great defense if everything comes together and we continue to work as hard as we possibly can."
Graham said standing in the defensive backfield and looking at the front seven, the talent is "unbelievable."
"With all the different guys we got on the D-line, the rotation we could possibly have up there, the new guys at linebacker and the speed we got on the defensive backs, it can be an unbelievable defense out there," Graham said. "We see it. We definitely see it. We will continue to work as hard as we possibly can to make it happen."
The Ravens defense fell below its usual high standards last year. After ranking in the top 10 each of the previous nine seasons, Baltimore's defense slid to 17th last year in average yards allowed per game (350.9).
As Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said, "We were good in the playoffs – good enough – but we weren't good enough in the season for us to be the kind of defense that we want to be."
And so came the farewells and goodbyes.
Ray Lewis retired. Ed Reed, Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe and Cary Williams took lucrative free-agent contracts elsewhere. Baltimore cut Bernard Pollard and didn't re-sign nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu. The Ravens restructured their defensive backfield and front line, focusing on improving their unit straight down the middle.
Now months later, the Ravens backfield is faster and the front seven is deeper and laden with experience and talent.
Elam picked off a pass from quarterback Joe Flacco both Wednesday and Thursday. His latest came with an acrobatic play off a tip. Safety Michael Huff has been frequently around the ball.
Suggs is slimmer and feeling a new passion to regain his Defensive Player of the Year form. He's "ecstatic" to have a Pro Bowl pass rusher in Elvis Dumervil opposite him, which should give Baltimore a dangerous duo.
On the line, veteran Chris Canty is towering over everyone at 6-foot-7, and regularly knifing into the backfield. Rookie Brandon Williams and Marcus Spears are stuffing the middle. That's not even mentioning Haloti Ngata, who rehabbed his knee this week but is expected to be healthy by training camp.
The depth and versatility in the front seven should allow the Ravens to give opponents many different looks. Pees shuffled the unit around throughout minicamp.
"We are going to be a nice little solid front," Suggs said, trying to be modest Wednesday. "I'm really looking forward to defense as a whole – just how special and how good we can be and really try to achieve some great things together."
Ravens Senior Defensive Assistant Steve Spagnuolo, who coached one of the league's best defensive fronts in New York when the Giants won the Super Bowl in 2007, has also been impressed during his short time with the team.
"I'm not as familiar with our offensive guys right now, but defensively, wow," Spagnuolo said. "I had little visions of the Giants front that I happened to be privileged to be working with. They are good all the way around."
Spagnuolo was asked whether he thinks this year's defense will be better than last year's, a notion is gaining traction with analysts.
"I don't make predictions like that, but I will say this, and maybe it was when the guys put the real football pants on the other day," Spaguolo said. "This is as good as looking football team that I've ever seen. I'm talking about physically and stout."