With the NFL Draft still two days away (insert gripe here), let’s take a trip down a not-so-good memory lane and look at the lessons learned from a rough 2013 season for our purple and black. Then, let’s see how the road to redemption looks so far.
Not long after the Ravens season ended, the team held their annual state of the team address for the media and fans. Mr. Bisciotti along with Dick Cass, Ozzie Newsome and coach John Harbaugh spent plenty of time discussing what went right in 2013, but more importantly what went wrong and how to fix it in 2014.
“We had a lot of failures on the football field – offense and defense – and so I know they’ve got their work cut out for them,” Bisciotti stated when asked what the Ravens’ number one priority was this offseason.
With the offense being at their all-time worst in 2013, it seemed an all-hands-on-deck project in order to improve it. When former offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was hired as the head coach of the Detroit Lions, the team quietly coveted former Texans head coach Gary Kubiak to take over the offensive reigns. At seemingly the last minute, Kubiak was hired, bringing along with him his (previously very successful) zone blocking system.
“I want you to know for the Ravens, for our coaching staff, for our players, for our organization, for our fans – it’s a great day and I’m excited about it,” Harbaugh stated when welcoming Kubiak to the organization. ”We’ve got a chance to build the best offensive staff in the National Football League, and coach Kubiak is a guy I’ve had a lot of respect for as a coach over the years.”
With the offensive coaching staff in place the Ravens could finally shift their focus to the all important salary cap and the utter chaos known as NFL free agency.
“I think we’ll continue with our theme of not restructuring contracts,” Newsome explained early on. “But, there’s a difference between restructuring and offering guys extensions. We have guys that are in the last year of their contract [or] going into the last year of their contract, and we’ve had a history of being able to get good deals done with guys heading into that last year. So, I don’t think we will embark on doing any more restructuring, but we will probably look at doing some extensions.”
Pat Moriarty spent numerous hours crunching his calculator this offseason looking to improve cap space, while Ozzie and company worked feverishly to improve player personnel and retain key players. That included inking veteran Terrell Suggs to a four-year contract extension, a move that freed up vital cap space.
In addition to the Suggs extension and a couple other roster moves, the team decided to part ways with veterans Vonta Leach and Jameel McClain. The Ravens then turned their attention back to priority one: Improving the offense.
The month ofMarch proved to be a very busy month for the team working on this objective. The re-signings of tight end Dennis Pitta and left tackle Eugene Monroe were key and certainly a necessity. Both provide Joe Flacco with their own brand of “security.” The re-signing of Jacoby Jones not only helped the return game but gave the Ravens another viable pass-catching option.
The oft-discussed topic among many fans (including myself) throughout the year was the loss of Anquan Boldin. His production and fiery attitude was severely missed which was apparent to the Ravens in hindsight (which is, albeit, always 20/20).
Enter the Smiths.
The Ravens got their fiery receiver that they missed when they announced the signing of free agent wide receiver Steve Smith on March 14, 2014.
“I can tell you this: I’m not Anquan Boldin,” Smith said during his initial conference call with Baltimore media. “I respect the heck out of ‘Q,’ and what ‘Q’ brings to the table is what ‘Q’ brings to the table. I’m Steve Smith, and what I bring to the table as a Baltimore Raven, I have to earn that, and my time on the field will display what I bring to the table.
“My comparison to Anquan … I can’t [compare], because I respect the heck out of that guy and what he brings to the table and who he is. We play similar games; we want to win and we go all-out. But we’re also individuals, and so I’m not here to replace anyone. I’m here to be myself.”
On the same day, the team also announced – in what has proved to be the biggest defensive move this offseason – the re-signing of veteran linebacker Daryl Smith. Smith provided a much smoother transition at middle linebacker in 2013 than any one could have imagined in wake of the retirement of Ray Lewis.
“He looks a lot like Ray Lewis,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said of Smith last season. “Ray Lewis is Hall of Fame; he’s one of the best players I’ve ever played against, but Daryl Smith has really stepped in and been a big leader for them.”
The next step in the process for the Ravens was the offensive line. Sadly for Gino Gradkowski his 2013 season was, to put it mildly, not that great. While Gino worked hard, it seemingly wasn’t enough to secure a starting position this upcoming season. The team pulled the trigger on a trade, giving up a 2015 draft pick to Tampa Bay to bring center Jeremy Zuttah to Baltimore.
“You have to be intelligent, you have to a leader and tell everybody what to do and make sure everyone is on the same page,” Zuttah said when asked what it takes to be a good center.
“You also have to be tough, there is a lot of big bodies there in the middle and you have to be able to control them. You also have to be athletic. You have to run around and get to that second level.”
With a little more than a month left before the 2014 draft, the Ravens weren’t done yet when it came to acquiring players for their offensive rebuild. The team scooped up two players with ties to Kubiak in tight end Owen Daniels and running back Justin Forsett.
“First off, both of these men are tremendous people, and they’ll be great teammates,” Kubiak said of the pair. “That’s the biggest thing – they’ll be great Ravens from that standpoint and great teammates to everybody. I’ve been with Owen from the beginning. He had a little bit of bad luck last year with the injury, but he’s a heck of a football player – very versatile in what he’s doing and understands our schemes very well.
“So, he should be like a coach on the field helping us make the transition. Justin played for me a couple of years ago as a backup to Arian Foster, and he played extremely well. He’s a heck of a special teams player, too. All football – both of them are all about ball. The biggest compliment I can give them both is that they’ll be great teammates to the guys that are here, and I look forward to having them here.”
The Ravens certainly aren’t done with improvements by any means. They still have holes but they have set themselves up nicely as the team puts their finishing touches on preparing for the draft this week.
As I have mentioned lately, it’s anyone’s guess what the organization will choose to do in the first-round. Will they even pick at 17? And if they do, who will they choose?
The bottom line is that they have options. Ozzie having options is always a good thing. We’re just two days away from the next step in what has thus far been a very busy and productive offseason.
Here’s to an improved team in 2014!
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