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Perhaps the biggest priority for the Ravens this offseason is to change and improve the running game. The club is looking to achieve offensive balance and move up the totem pole in the leagueâ€™s rankings. Chances are they will need to.
A more productive offense is critical to the teamâ€™s success since it may be difficult for the NFLâ€™s No. 1 defensive unit to repeat its â€˜06 performance without the services of Adalius Thomas.
The Ravens front office has already upgraded the teamâ€™s backfield with the acquisition of Willis McGahee. But to overhaul the leagueâ€™s 25th ranked rushing attack from last season, the Ravens will need more. They will need a more versatile line capable of being more than a collection of pile drivers.
In 2006, the Ravens offensive line did very little in terms of traps, draws and pulling to the edges. The blocking was usually straight ahead man on man or they zoned by sealing off one side or the other with the hope that Jamal Lewis could cut off the backside. The approach failed.
In 2007, the Ravens could start the season with a vastly different looking offensive line. If they do spend their first round pick on an interior linemen as many have predicted, the team might look to that player to start on September 10 against the Bengals or sometime soon thereafter.
Jason Brown is a lock to start at guard and promising Chris Chester is likely to start at guard or center. Adam Terry will play right tackle if Jonathan Ogden returns as expected. That means four different starters could take the field on the teamâ€™s offensive front on Opening Day 2007 as compared to Opening Day 2006.
Brown is an extremely intelligent player who can be a road grader. He has shown an ability to get to the second level and was solid in pass protection. While he prefers center to guard given that heâ€™s spent most of his career there, heâ€™s developing as a guard and he has embraced the position as his own.
Chester is a player that has unusual quickness and speed for his position and can reach linebackers faster than most of his peers. Brown believes that Chester can be effective at either guard or center but sees him more as a center in the NFL.
Chester has a hard time keeping weight on and that could be his biggest challenge at center, particularly when confronted by those AFC North loads named Casey Hampton, Sam Adams and Sam Washington.
Adam Terry isnâ€™t the prototypical mauler normally seen at the right tackle position. Terry is athletic and can get out into space. He also has good feet but has shown a vulnerability to a bull rush. But Terryâ€™s versatility combined with that of Brown and Chester could pave the way for more versatility in the Ravensâ€™ offense and a new look to their rushing attack.
And that would be a welcomed change. The old approach was tired and a bit obsolete and the declining skills of Jamal Lewis just made matters worse.
From Wide Bodies to Wide Receivers
While most would consider the Ravens receiving corps as one of the teamâ€™s strongest units, donâ€™t be surprised if they pull the trigger on another receiver on Day 1 of the draft, particularly if that player can provide punch to the Ravens return game. Keep in mind that B.J. Sams might not make a full recovery given the severity of his ankle injury.
Also keep in mind that Derrick Mason might not be long for the team and thereâ€™s a chance that 2007 could be his last in Baltimore. As with Todd Heap, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, the Ravens have shown that they will ignore need and stick to their board. If the best player on that board is a receiver, the Ravens wonâ€™t hesitate to put him in purple. Eventually that player and position become a need. One year after drafting Heap, Shannon Sharpe hit the dusty trail out of Baltimore.
Plus the Ravens have to admit that thereâ€™s a big drop off in receiving talent on their roster after Demetrius Williams. Third round pick Devard Darling has two receptions in three seasons. He was active for only one game the entire 2006 season — the opener v. Tampa. Itâ€™s a safe bet to consider Darling a bust. However, the Ravens remember vividly that they didnâ€™t give Casey Rabach a chance to play and when he got his chance, he parlayed it into a lucrative contract with the Redskins.
Thatâ€™s not to say that Darling could be productive if given a chance but lately the Ravens have repeatedly said that they donâ€™t want to give up on their players until they are actually given the opportunity to play their way off the team. Darling hasnâ€™t been given that opportunity. It will be interesting to see if he gets another year of rope from the Ravens.
Darlingâ€™s 2004 Draft classmate Clarence Moore has struggled mightily after a relatively successful rookie campaign. Although Moore could be a productive red zone situational player, he lacks the ball skills and assertiveness needed to make plays. As opposed to Darling, Moore has been given a chance to prove himself. The only thing he’s proven is that he’s an extremely one dimensional player who doesnâ€™t contribute on special teams. It might be time to pull the plug on this three year old Brian Billick science project.
The rest of the league must not think much of Moore either. The Ravens only tendered Moore the lowest restricted free agent tender offer and no team has come to offer more to Moore despite the cost of just a sixth round pick.
Every offseason brings change and change in the NFL is as certain as death, taxes and another arrested Bengal.