The Baltimore Ravens will officially kickoff the start of their 2013 season when training camp commences this Thursday.
Since the team last took the field, much has changed. To help us take a look back at the championship season that was, provide insight into the rationale behind the changes that were made and take a look ahead I reached out to the Ravens’ Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta.
Here’s Part I of a two-part interview:
Tony Lombardi: You are coming off the franchise’s second Super Bowl title within a span of 13 seasons. Why is it so difficult to repeat in the NFL?
Eric DeCosta: Well, first of all, you need a lot of luck. Then, the second part is that everyone is gunning for you every week. Opposing coaching staffs have been studying you all off-season and players can’t wait to compete against us. And the third part is that nothing stays static. Players come and go. Your roster changes. Motivations change. It’s hard.
TL: Steve Bisciotti is not a meddlesome owner. He strikes me as a man who is an outside-the-box thinker who empowers and challenges his staff. Can you share a story about Steve that exemplifies his understated approach?
ED: Steve does a fantastic job of getting people to speak. Whether it’s asking the right question or encouraging people to share ideas, he is a great facilitator of discussion.
Some of our best discussions are held late into the night after the second day of the draft with the scouts and Steve. I think that’s one reason, without going into specifics, that we have been able to find some nice contributors in rounds five through seven over the past five drafts.
TL: You obviously made a conscious decision to get younger and faster on defense. At what point during the 2012 season did you reach the consensus that this would be an organizational goal this offseason?
ED: It was obvious early on that we weren’t quite as fast and stout on defense as we had been in past years. Games like Dallas and Cleveland and Kansas City, while we won, were unsettling. We knew we had to try to change the menu this year.
TL: The Ravens entire organization is dynamic, continually evolving and looking to improve in all areas. Off the field, what steps have you taken to get better each year?
ED: I think we do a great job in the training room and weight room. In fact, those two areas probably have as much impact on our success as anything. Our players had a great off-season, got healthier and stronger. The average fan would be amazed by how many of our players have surgeries after the season. Getting well and getting strong and fast are huge priorities every year. Mark Smith, our trainer, and Bob Rogucki, our strength coach are the best in the business.
TL: On the field one of the biggest concerns is the position of wide receiver given the departure of Anquan Boldin. How will the team pick up the slack for the loss of Q?
ED: Losing Q is the great unknown. We know Torrey [Smith] and Dennis [Pitta] and Ray [Rice] will continue to shine in the pass game. We think Jacoby [Jones] is ready for an expanded role and we really believe that Ed Dickson is going to have a big year for us. Plus, we have some confidence in Tandon [Doss], David [Reed], and Deonte [Thompson] based on what we have seen in practice. My experience is that someone will emerge.
TL: What will the Ravens miss most about the 2012 versions of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed and what can the team do to offset those losses?
ED: With Ray and Ed, you are talking about guys you can’t replace in an off-season. They bring so much ability, experience, and leadership. We tried to create competition at their positions by bringing in players like Elam, Huff, Smith, and Brown.
We also really need other players on defense to emerge to lessen the loss. We know that guys like Webby, Haloti, and Terrell are primed for big years. That will help too.
TL: Inside linebacker positions are seemingly up for grabs and the competition should be one of the more interesting subplots to the preseason. What do you expect from this battle?
ED: We added some nice pieces at backer and there will be a strong competition throughout camp. Not knowing Jameel’s status, we are excited to see Arthur Brown, who was a scout and coach favorite pre-draft, and also Daryl Smith, who two years ago was one of the best linebackers in football, in my opinion. We have some other guys, like Josh Bynes, who have played good football for us in spurts.
TL: With all of the new additions on defense it could take some time for the unit to gel. What can the team do to help accelerate the learning curve?
ED: We have a great defensive coaching staff and a lot of work has already been done to make sure we hit the ground running on defense. A lot of the heavy lifting takes place in May and June, not August when camp starts. Our guys already know the scheme and their individual roles. We have great teachers in guys like Dean [Pees], Clarence [Brooks], Wink [Don Martindale], Ted [Monachino], and T.A. [Teryl Austin]. Spags [Steve Spagnuolo] will bring a new perspective too.
TL: Many from your rookie class were captains in college. I’ve heard people within the organization speak to their impressive level of leadership, character and love for the game. What about this class at this early stage impresses you the most?
ED: The guys seem self-motivated, smart, and proud. We drafted a bunch of tough guys who care about the game. So far, so good.