My five takeaways from the "State of the Ravens" press conference Tuesday at the Under Armour Performance Center:
Newsome Didn't Dodge Needs Question
In recent years, GM Ozzie Newsome used this occasion to pinpoint what he saw as the team's most pressing personnel needs. Tuesday, he declined to get so specific, stating several times that he just wanted to build the "best possible 53-man roster and practice squad." I think he was saying something, not just dodging the question. If I may be permitted to translate, I think he was saying (remember, my words, not his): "We're pretty good. Sure, we have some needs. You know what they are. Secondary. Tight end. Maybe a few other spots depending on how free agency goes. But overall, we're pretty happy with the majority of our roster, say, spots No. 1 through No. 45. We want to bolster the rest, build up our depth. If we learned anything in 2014, it's that you tap your depth more than ever these days. A lot of guys get hurt. You end up needing quality snaps from your low-level guys. We want to be as good as we can be down there, and since you never know where you're going to suffer injuries, we're looking to upgrade at any spot, wherever we can."
Little Wiggle Room For Players With Domestic Violence Backgrounds
After the Ray Rice scandal, the Ravens were understandably going to be extremely cautious about bringing in players with a history of domestic violence. But they left themselves little wiggle room with their comments Tuesday. Newsome was unambiguous, saying, "It will be tough to bring a player to Baltimore with domestic abuse in their background." It's a commendable stance that could impact the roster immediately. For instance, some fans want the team to draft wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham, a top-10 talent with numerous off-field issues on his record, including allegedly pushing a woman down some stairs. It sounds like you can cross him off the Ravens' list. Among veteran players who have been linked to the Ravens as possible cap-casualty additions this offseason, receiver Brandon Marshall and cornerback Cary Williams have been suspended during their careers reportedly for domestic violence incidents.
Forsett Higher Priority Than Thought
While the Ravens obviously loved what running back Justin Forsett did for them in 2014 – he was their MVP, for crying out loud – it was unclear how they felt about bringing him back, especially after Gary Kubiak left for Denver, as Forsett is a classic Kubiak-system guy. But it sounds like he's higher on the priority list than some may have imagined. Asked about Forsett Tuesday, Newsome started by saying he had "learned something new since the end of the season" about Forsett mentoring numerous younger backs during his career. It was said with admiration, as another reason to keep Forsett aside from his on-field abilities. Given that and the fact that a new deal for Forsett probably won't break the bank, the chances of him playing for the Ravens in 2015 have gone up in my mind. "We will want to try to retain Justin," Newsome said.
Steve Bisciotti LOVES John Harbaugh
The owner of the team sure loves his head coach. Ravens Owner Steve Bisciotti made it clear he was severely bummed out, rocked to the core, to see his team dragged through the mud during the Rice scandal. "I had 14 good years (as an owner) and then I had one crappy year," Bisciotti said. How low did he get? He joked Tuesday about possibly selling the team if Microsoft's Steve Ballmer had lived on the East Coast (to repeat, he was kidding) and he said he was now "off suicide watch, stable mentally." It seems Head Coach John Harbaugh's late-season success with the team served as a powerful antidote, helping him emerge from his funk. "John's success … reminded me of the good things," said Bisciotti, who also applauded Harbaugh for steering the team to a winning season despite many injuries and distractions. "What John did and the way he handles his coaches and players was masterful," the owner said.
No Panic With Re-Tooling Secondary
Newsome certainly isn't panicking as he sets out to try to fortify a struggling, injury-plagued secondary that was the Ravens' biggest problem in 2014. "Our secondary is going to be good as long as we can rush the passer, which we can," he said. That doesn't mean he was happy with what he saw. Matt Elam, the team's 2013 first-round draft pick, "has to be a better football player," Newsome said. Terrence Brooks, a 2014 third-round pick, has "shown flashes," hardly high praise. But don't look for wholesale changes. It seems his plan for rebuilding the unit begins with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb returning to 100 percent health. With those two and safety Will Hill, the unit has an outline that Newsome seemingly likes. Sure, there will be additions via free agency and/or the draft, but not a ton. Bottom line, the Ravens feel injuries were the biggest culprit for that unit's falloff.