The NFL is incredibly dynamic – things are constantly changing and turnover is incessant. Players rarely spend their entire career with one team, injuries open roster spots and provide opportunities, and coaches and coordinators are on what seems like a never-ending carousel, bouncing from team to team and city to city.
For this reason, each year every team creates a new identity. Newly acquired players bring new skill sets and personalities, and coaches implement new schemes and develop cultures that they think will transition to success on the field.
This is perhaps more true for the Ravens in 2014 than it has been since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996. New coaches and mentalities, and some new veteran players – particularly on offense – have been brought in to help revamp a unit that to put it kindly, struggled in 2013.
Aside from the new players and coaches however, there is an overall vibe that things are different around this year’s team. Things feel fresh, rejuvenated, and despite last year’s struggles, there are high expectations for 2014. The feeling is somewhat intangible, and there isn’t one specific thing that is creating it, but likely a handful of factors are playing a part.
Success breeds complacency, complacency breeds failure. The Ravens coaching staff made it a point of emphasis last offseason to avoid the “Super Bowl Hangover.” While there were no doubt other things that played a part in their mediocre season, this certainly factored in. 2014 however is the opposite end of that spectrum. Missing the playoffs didn’t sit well with veterans who were used to playing in January, and it will likely provide motivation for the Ravens to return to their winning ways.
While Ray Lewis and Ed Reed weren’t really missed on the field, the absence of their voices and presence in the locker room left a void. However, that shadow won’t loom as large this year as it did in 2013. While they will always be a part of the Ravens and the city of Baltimore, the team has moved on. The addition of Steve Smith will definitely help.
The Ravens are healthy. In recent years some key veterans have come into training camp with questions marks around their status at the start of the season, that’s not the case in 2014. There will certainly be some bumps and bruises through training camp and the preseason, but if the Ravens can avoid anything catastrophic (such as Dennis Pitta’s injury last training camp), they are in much better shape than they have been in years past.
These guys are hungry. It seems as if this year almost every player, new and old has something to prove. Castoffs like Steve Smith, Jeremy Zuttah and Owen Daniels want to show that their previous employers made a mistake by moving on from them. Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs and Ray Rice want to show the front office they are worthy of the investments the Ravens made in them. Haloti Ngata needs to prove to Ozzie Newsome and the front office that he can return to form as one the most elite defensive lineman in the league, and is worthy of a new contract himself.
Regardless of what happens, 2014 will be an interesting year for the Ravens, and with all the change, it’s hard to say what their identity will be. So far the arrow seems to pointing up, and there is a really good vibe coming from the team. But it’s easy to find the positives in June – let’s just hope they transition to wins starting in September.