Ravens retooling; now it's up to Flacco

(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore…)
March 17, 2014|Mike Preston

The next move is up to quarterback Joe Flacco.

Right now, the Ravens have their best receiving corps since the early days of the franchise when receivers like Michael Jackson, Derrick Alexander and Jermaine Lewis were around.

If the Ravens bolster their offensive line, which they will, they might get Flacco back to his 2012 form when he completed 317 of 531 passes for 3,817 yards and 22 touchdowns during the regular season.

Flacco was exceptional that postseason, connecting on 73 of 126 passes for 1,140 yards and 11 touchdowns as the Ravens won the Super Bowl and Flacco was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

The Ravens have a good combination heading into the 2014 season. They have the Pro Bowl veteran presence of Steve Smith, two receivers headed into the prime of their careers in Torrey Smith and tight end Dennis Pitta and a promising young receiver in Marlon Brown. In addition, both Smith and Jacoby Jones are speed guys.

Last season, Flacco struggled as he threw a career-high 22 interceptions. At times, he seemed to regress but he also didn't have much time to throw and the offense struggled without receivers Anquan Boldin (traded to the San Francisco 49ers before the season) and Pitta (played only four games due to injury).

The Ravens' front office learned that Flacco isn't good enough to carry a team, but can win with a good surrounding cast. After last season ended, coach John Harbaugh suggested that Flacco needed to spend more time working with his receivers in the offseason, much more than the usual mini-camps.

With Smith signing last week the Ravens have most of the pieces together, so Flacco should be calling soon. Smith appears excited.

"Well, Coach Kubiak [Gary Kubiak, the offensive coordinator], I know his system. I've seen his system; I've seen the very creative ways they've gotten other guys the ball," Smith said. "I want to be a part of that. One of the things I've seen for myself — I don't see myself in Coach Kubiak's system like [Texans WR] Andre Johnson] — I see the complementary dude of [former Texans WR] Kevin Walter. I see how he contributed and how he was instrumental in getting Andre the ball but also getting his own opportunities.

"I see how he used [former Texans TE Owen] Daniels. So, he used a lot of guys in his system, and I wanted to go into a system that I could be utilized but I could also benefit from other great players. ..."

Dropping pounds

Apparently, Ray Rice has gotten the message.

He looked sluggish last season, rushing for only 660 yards on 214 carries, and he had only four touchdowns. Rice seldom broke a tackle and looked like he had bulked up too much.

But early reports are that Rice is looking trim and fit. There is speculation that he has lost 15 to 16 pounds from the 226 he topped out at last season.

"So, this offense, with speed on the outside, and with [Dennis] Pitta back with those great hands, it's going to be smooth," Jacoby Jones said last week. "The running game is going to be nice. I saw Ray [Rice] — he looks like he lost a little bit a weight, like he's ready to roll. He's looking fit."

It's a good move by Rice. The quickest way to make fans forget about all your offseason problems is to have a good season.

A lot of fans have short memories.

Losing Graham is a loss

Cornerback Corey Graham recently signed a four-year contract reportedly worth $16 million with the Buffalo Bills and his loss will hurt the Ravens.

Granted, Graham was listed as a No. 3 cornerback here most of last season, but he played on the outside and he always seemed to get better as the season went on. He also was valuable on special teams.

If starting cornerbacks Lardarius Webb or Jimmy Smith got injured, the Ravens had no concerns about playing Graham, who finished tied for fifth on the team with 74 tackles. The Ravens made a smart move by not shelling out the big money for Graham, but he was a luxury few teams had.

Good move for Oher

Right tackle Michael Oher is now a Tennessee Titan and he needed the change. Oher didn't appear to get along with running game coordinator Juan Castillo and he thought the Ravens wouldn't re-sign him once they traded for left tackle Eugene Monroe last season.

Maybe the change of pace will allow Oher to play at a higher level. He never lived up to his first-round billing in Baltimore and seemed to lose some intensity after his rookie season. He struggled in every aspect of the game last season.

Overall, though, a nice young man who had a strong work ethic.

Daniels might be good fit

The Ravens have expressed lukewarm interest in Owen Daniels, but so have several other teams. There is no need to hurry.

When healthy, Daniels is one of the best tight ends in the NFL, but a fractured fibula forced him to miss the final 11 games last season and he hasn't played a full 16 game season since 2008. But if he accepts a limited role, he might be the "right player, right price" for Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.

mpreston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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