With about one month before the opening of training camp, the Ravens have had one of their best offseasons in recent years, and coach John Harbaugh has set the perfect tone going into the 2013 regular season.
When a team wins a Super Bowl, a lot of times there is a turbulent offseason with player arrests, suspensions or major contract holdouts, but the Ravens have avoided those issues this year.
They caused a stir early in the offseason with the trade of wide receiver Anquan Boldin, the release of safety Bernard Pollard, the failure to re-sign safety Ed Reed and the retirement of linebacker Ray Lewis, but most of those moves were expected, and had to be done to allow the Ravens to become faster, younger and stronger and allow Harbaugh to develop a new team chemistry.
But once the knee-jerk reaction from those moves subsided, the Ravens have built a strong contending team, one on paper that is better than a year ago.
They added defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, as well as safety Michael Huff and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil. Their rookie class seems to be talented, with safety Matt Elam, linebacker Arthur Brown and defensive tackle Brandon Williams.
The only negatives the Ravens faced this year were inside linebacker Rolando McClain retiring, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata being out of shape and waiting for inside linebacker Jameel McClain (spinal cord injury) to get a final medical clearance.
Harbaugh has delivered a strong message heading into training camp. The Ravens aren't beating their chests declaring that they are the defending champions and the road to the Lombardi Trophy this season runs through Baltimore, but it's the same theme as every year.
It's about working hard.
"Our guys understand that, and that's been our mindset as far as I can tell," Harbaugh said last week at the team's mandatory minicamp. "They're looking forward to the opportunity to do something really special, just like every year. We've had our share of issues, but our share has been small. So I would expect our guys to continue to do a great job of just being pros and being quality people and citizens, and I'd be very surprised if anything like this was a problem."
A look at veteran LB Daryl Smith
Veteran inside linebacker Daryl Smith may have flown under the radar at the last minicamp, but the Ravens were happy with the way he performed.
Smith, who is heading into his 10th season in the NFL, did a lot of work with the first team, and he was flying around the field like a rookie again.
Smith was one of the league's most productive defensive players during the past decade, but a sports hernia limited him to nine games and six tackles with the Jacksonville Jaguars last season. Before the injury, however, Smith was the leading tackler in Jaguars history with 1,084.
The Ravens will get a better look at Smith during the first five days of training camp and then determine if he can help them this season.
Training camp sleepers
Two sleepers to watch during the preseason are cornerback Moe Lee, a rookie from Utah, and outside linebacker Adrian Hamilton, a second-year player from Prairie View A&M.
With good size and speed — he's 6 feet 1, 191 pounds and runs the 40-yard dash in 4.59 seconds — Lee always seemed to be around the ball during the mandatory minicamp.
Hamilton, at 6 foot 3 and 260 pounds, has great raw potential and can become a solid pass rusher. He just needs to study more and become more of a technician.
Feeling sorry for Jarret Johnson
One former Ravens player who I felt sorry that he didn't get a Super Bowl ring was outside linebacker Jarret Johnson.
He came into the NFL as an undersized defensive end, drafted in the fourth round by the Ravens in 2003, but he never received individual accolades because he was often overshadowed by Lewis and fellow outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
But it was Johnson who played on the strong side and did most of the dirty work, calling out the defensive signals even though Lewis received most of the credit.
Former Ravens defensive tackle Sam Adams used to have a great description for players like Johnson — "just a blue-collar, hard hat-type of guy who brings his lunch and 2-by-4 every day to work."
More of the same in the AFC North
As the regular season approaches, there shouldn't be much shifting in the AFC North.
The Cleveland Browns have a new coaching staff and attitude, but nothing that will put them above .500. The Pittsburgh Steelers had a good draft, adding some skilled players, but they still can't match up in the trenches with the Ravens or the Cincinnati Bengals.
The Bengals remained pretty much unchanged, and they will contend for the division title with the Ravens, but the Ravens have the edge because quarterback Joe Flacco is better than Cincinnati's Andy Dalton.
Hello again, Vonta?
The Ravens are still quietly monitoring the situation with former fullback Vonta Leach. The Miami Dolphins appear to be the frontrunner for Leach, with the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans also in contention.
But if the Dolphins were offering such an attractive package, Leach would have signed by now. The Ravens reportedly offered Leach a contact worth $2 million and loaded with incentives, but those close to Leach don't believe those incentives were realistic for him to reach.
Leach was expected to make $3 million this season before the Ravens recently cut him.