AFC North: Bryant McKinnie

The Baltimore Ravens received a seventh-round draft pick from the Miami Dolphins in last season's trade for offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, the team announced Thursday.

The Ravens sent McKinnie to the Dolphins on Oct. 21 for a conditional late-round pick after they replaced him in the starting lineup with Eugene Monroe. McKinnie made 10 starts last season for the Dolphins.

It's still amazing that the Ravens were able to get anything for McKinnie, who struggled mightily for the Ravens in five starts last season. In his final game with the Ravens, McKinnie allowed Joe Flacco to get hit from behind, which led to an interception being returned for a touchdown.

This additional pick essentially replaces the seventh-round selection that the Ravens traded to the Indianapolis Colts last offseason for center-guard A.Q. Shipley. The Ravens now have five draft picks, one each in the first, second, third, sixth and seventh rounds. Baltimore is expected to receive four compensatory picks, which will be announced at next week's owners meetings.

Here are the Ravens' seventh-round picks since 2008: running back Allen Patrick (2008), running back Anthony Allen (2011), defensive end DeAngelo Tyson (2012), wide receiver Aaron Mellette (2013), cornerback Marc Anthony (2013). Only Tyson and Mellette are still with the Ravens.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged the team is trading offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie to the Miami Dolphins for a conditional late-round draft pick.

What does this say? The Dolphins are extremely desperate for a starting tackle and the Ravens just wanted to get rid of McKinnie. Acquiring a late-round pick is better than simply cutting McKinnie, but this comes with a risk -- albeit a small one.

McKinnie
McKinnie
The Ravens are going with rookie fifth-round pick Rick Wagner as their primary backup at tackle. McKinnie never looked great this season, but Wagner seemed overmatched when he filled in for Michael Oher in the season opener. The chances that the Ravens will need Wagner are small considering the durability of Oher and left tackle Eugene Monroe.

Harbaugh and the Ravens already showed they had more faith in Wagner over McKinnie the past two weeks, when they decided to make McKinnie, and not Wagner, inactive.

"It's a good move for us, I think it's a good move for Bryant," Harbaugh said. "Happy for Bryant. I think it's a good opportunity for him, more than anything."

McKinnie was a source of frustration for most of his short time with the Ravens, from his weight issues to the party bus incident. But he did play a major role in the Ravens' Super Bowl title last season. After getting benched in the regular season, he solidified the blind side in the postseason, allowing two sacks despite going against Dwight Freeney, Elvis Dumervil and Aldon Smith.

That's why the Ravens gave McKinnie a two-year, $6.3 million contract (which included a $2 million signing bonus) in the offseason, a deal that looks foolish at this point.

The Ravens should be happy if they can get a seventh-round pick from Miami because they basically got nothing from McKinnie all season.

Jacoby Jones is active for Ravens

October, 13, 2013
10/13/13
12:00
PM ET
BALTIMORE -- Baltimore Ravens wide receiver Jacoby Jones is active for the first time since the season opener.

Jones
Jones, who injured his knee in Week 1, had missed the past five games. The Ravens now have decisions to make with Jones on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Baltimore can go with Jones or Marlon Brown, who is back after missing last Sunday with a hamstring injury, as its No. 2 wide receiver. The same goes for punt returns, where the Ravens can give the job back to Jones or stick with Tandon Doss, who leads the NFL in this category.

The Ravens made Bryant McKinnie, who started the first five games at left tackle, inactive Sunday. Eugene Monroe is making his Ravens' debut as the starting left tackle. This means rookie Ricky Wagner is the top backup at tackle for the Ravens.

Here is the official inactive list for both teams:

PACKERS: CB Jarrett Bush, CB Casey Hayward, RB James Starks, LB Clay Matthews, LB Brad Jones, G Greg Van Roten, DE Josh Boyd.

RAVENS: NT Terrence Cody, G-T Jah Reid, OT Bryant McKinnie, C Ryan Jensen, WR Brandon Stokley, LB John Simon, DT Marcus Spears.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens left tackle Bryant McKinnie struggled mightily in Sunday's 26-23 win at Miami, and Eugene Monroe will have his first full week of practice since being traded from the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Monroe
McKinnie
McKinnie
So, it makes perfect sense that Monroe takes over as the starting left tackle this week, right?

"We’re in wait-and-see mode right now," coach John Harbaugh said of his left tackle situation. "We’ll see what happens over the course of the week. We don’t really know for sure right now."

Gulp.

I would like to see Joe Flacco's reaction when he hears that there is a chance that McKinnie will protect his blind side for another game. For the sake of Flacco's badly beaten up body, let's hope Harbaugh is just being coy about the most important spot on the offensive line because he doesn't want the Green Bay Packers to know Monday that there is going to be a new starting left tackle.

There really shouldn't be a decision, and it's hard to believe Harbaugh when he suggests there is one. McKinnie gave up two hits and four hurries Sunday. He nearly cost the Ravens the game by letting rookie Dion Jordan hit Flacco from behind, which led to an interception return for a touchdown in the fourth quarter.

While I've already written that it's a smart move to McKinnie around for veteran depth, it wouldn't have surprised me if the Ravens had cut McKinnie. He was so bad Sunday that I'm not sure the Ravens could trust him on the field.

It looks like the Ravens are catching a break this week because the Packers are tied for 22nd in the NFL with 12 sacks and they're expected to be without their top pass-rusher. Clay Matthews is expected to miss one month with a broken thumb, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Still, the Ravens signed Joe Flacco to a $120.6 million contract seven months ago and they need to protect that investment. Monroe's strength is pass blocking, and Flacco could use some dependable bodyguards these days.

Harbaugh acknowledged that Monroe looked "really good" at practice last week, which should be an indication that he's on track to make his Ravens debut in six days at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.

"We’re just going to have to see how it plays out. This is unchartered territory for us. It really is," Harbaugh said, alluding to the fact that the Ravens have never traded for a player during the regular season. "We’ve never been down this road before. We’ll see what happens."

Rapid Reaction: Baltimore Ravens

October, 6, 2013
10/06/13
4:17
PM ET

MIAMI -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 26-23 victory over the Miami Dolphins:

What it means: The Ravens (3-2) kept pace in the AFC North and remain tied for first place by beating the Dolphins (3-2). It wasn't pretty, but a shorthanded Ravens offense remained committed to the run (first time Baltimore gained more than 100 yards rushing this season) and their defense continually put pressure on Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill (six sacks). Rebounding after tough losses has been a trend under coach John Harbaugh. Since 2008, the Ravens are 21-7 after losses.

Sweating it out: The Ravens had an impressive 94-yard touchdown drive in the second half, but it was a 34-yard one that won the game for Baltimore. With the score tied at 23, Joe Flacco hit Torrey Smith on a 14-yard pass to put the Ravens in field goal position. Justin Tucker's 44-yard kick put the Ravens ahead 26-23 with 1:46 remaining. It marked the 16th career game-winning drive for Flacco. The Ravens had to sweat out a 57-yard miss by Caleb Sturgis, who went wide left with 33 seconds left.

Stock watch: Rising: Linebacker Terrell Suggs. He continues to look like the NFL Defensive Player of the Year from two years ago. He recorded three sacks, including two on a critical fourth-quarter series. Suggs now has seven sacks this season and at least one in each game thus far.

Redemption for Rice: Running back Ray Rice fumbled once again but also scored two touchdowns. He powered his way for a 2-yard touchdown in the third quarter, tying the game at 13. This made up for a fumble earlier in the game, which had led to a field goal. Dating back to the playoffs, Rice has fumbled five times in eight games.

Another costly turnover: A week after getting picked off a career-worst five times, Flacco had an interception returned for a touchdown in the fourth quarter that tied the score at 23. But much of the blame can go to left tackle Bryant McKinnie or to the play call. On third-and-22, Flacco threw from his own goal line and was hit from behind by Dion Jordan, who beat McKinnie on the quarterback's blind side. Offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, who was acquired this week in a trade, was inactive after only two full practices with the team.

What's next: The Ravens return home to play the Green Bay Packers. It will be Baltimore's first home game since Sept. 22.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Even though Eugene Monroe has only had two practices with the Baltimore Ravens, coach John Harbaugh wouldn't rule out the possibility of Monroe playing Sunday at the Miami Dolphins.

Harbaugh believes playing time will come down to Monroe's comfort level with the Ravens' offense and their line calls.

"The good thing is he knows what it’s like to play," Harbaugh said. "If he gives us feedback and he says he’s comfortable and he can go, I would think we’d be very confident that he knows what he’s talking about."

According to Harbaugh, Monroe has been working overtime in an effort to suit up this week. He was at the Ravens facility Thursday night with the rest of the offensive linemen trying to get up to speed and was back early Friday morning.

"I had a dinner with him and we were kind of talking and he’s like, ‘I got to go,'" Harbaugh said. "He went upstairs and went to work. I think we’re on schedule but I’m not sure what the schedule is."

It could be a situation where Monroe is active but doesn't start. He could rotate throughout the game with Bryant McKinnie before taking over the spot entirely the following Sunday.

The Dolphins typically line up Olivier Vernon (1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits) and rookie first-round pick Dion Jordan (one sack, three quarterback hits) over the left tackle.

"We’ll just have to see," Harbaugh said of Monroe's availability. "We've got some ideas. We've got some things we can do. But we've got to pull the trigger on that, too."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie said there could be a chance the Baltimore Ravens will trade him.

McKinnie
McKinnie
“We’ll have to see when the time comes,” McKinnie said Thursday, just hours after the trade for Eugene Monroe became official. “Maybe a trade. Who knows?”

This shouldn't happen for a couple of reasons. For one, I would be surprised that any team would be interested in a 34-year-old offensive tackle who has graded out to be one of the NFL's worst run blockers and has given up 11 quarterback hurries this season. The Dolphins, Broncos, Packers and Seahawks would have to be desperate.

Even if a team approached the Ravens, they shouldn't let go of McKinnie. It may sound like a good idea right now to get something for McKinnie and have another team pick up the remainder of his $1 million salary for this year. But what happens if Monroe or Michael Oher get hurt? The Ravens would be in a better position to go back to McKinnie than start rookie Rick Wagner, who looked overmatched when he played in Denver.

I did find McKinnie's reaction amusing when asked if he'll have to adjust to being a backup again.

“Who said that’s what I have to adjust to?” McKinnie said. “Maybe not, so we don’t know yet.”

McKinnie told reporters that the Ravens coaches haven’t told him he’s lost his starting job. Newsflash to McKinnie: Maybe the coaches didn't think they had to tell him because everyone in the football world knows Monroe is taking his starting job. The only question is whether Monroe can acclimate fast enough to play Sunday in Miami.

"This is business, so they’re going to do whatever is best for their business," McKinnie said.

As long as McKinnie isn't a distraction or malcontent -- and he wasn't last year when he was benched -- what's best for the Ravens is to hold onto McKinnie for the rest of the season.
The Baltimore Ravens need a tight end. They could use another wide receiver. But, give general manager Ozzie Newsome credit, he knew the Ravens would go nowhere this season without upgrading the offensive line.

The Ravens agreed in principle to trade for Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Eugene Monroe, league sources told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter. This is the best move the Ravens could have made at this point. And this is the best player they could have acquired for that spot.

[+] EnlargeEugene Monroe
AP Photo/Dave MartinThe Ravens have reportedly acquired offensive tackle Eugene Monroe in a trade with the Jaguars.
Monroe is one of the most underrated left tackles in the NFL, although he hasn't played up to his standards this season. When you play for the lowly Jaguars, it's tough to get recognized. Just ask linebacker Daryl Smith.

Monroe's a quality pass protector and a solid run blocker. While he's not Joe Thomas, the real key here is he's significantly better than Bryant McKinnie, the Ravens' current left tackle.

McKinnie is 34 and has been a headache for the Ravens for the past two seasons, from struggling to keep his weight down to organizing a party bus on his birthday last week. Monroe is eight years younger than McKinnie and is known for his rigorous workouts and eating habits.

I'm not saying McKinnie is the root of all of the problems on the Ravens' offense. That would be narrow-minded. But it became apparent after four games that the Ravens made the wrong decision to re-sign him to a two-year, $6.3 million contract ($2 million signing bonus) just because he played well in four postseason games. So how did the Ravens rectify this? They went out and got the anti-McKinnie in Monroe.

The details of the trade are unknown, but Schefter reported that the Ravens are sending multiple third-day picks for Monroe. That means fourth round or later, which doesn't hurt the Ravens much because they should gain third-day compensatory picks for Paul Kruger, Dannell Ellerbe, Ed Reed and Cary Williams. When you look at the big picture, a good move becomes shrewd.

Some will ask why the Jaguars would trade Monroe if he is so solid. Jacksonville invested the second overall pick on Luke Joeckel in April, and there was no need to keep Monroe when the Jaguars have their left tackle of the future in Joeckel.

How badly did the Ravens want a new left tackle? This is the first time in the Ravens' 18-year existence that Newsome has made a trade during the season. The Ravens understood that they weren't going to the playoffs, much less the Super Bowl with this current offensive line. The Ravens couldn't run the ball, averaging 2.6 yards per attempt (second-worst in the NFL). The Ravens had problems protecting Joe Flacco, allowing him to get hit 12 times in Buffalo on Sunday.

Replacing McKinnie is a good place to turn the offense around. He had trouble driving defenders off the ball and consistently failed to finish his blocks. But the Ravens aren't going to fool themselves by thinking the addition of Monroe solves a floundering offense. The entire offensive line has hurt the Ravens at some point, whether it was poor blocking or multiple penalties.

This is where the trade for Monroe serves an additional purpose. By making such an unexpected -- and unprecedented -- move, the Ravens are putting everyone along that offensive line on notice. It can be the same type of shocking wake-up call from last season, when coach John Harbaugh fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in December.

The Ravens proved again that they won't sit around and watch their offense underachieve. It's a move the Ravens had to make if they have any hopes of defending their Super Bowl title.


For the second time this month, Ray Lewis questioned the lack of leadership on his former team. His latest criticism came after the incident where wide receiver Jacoby Jones was involved in a brawl on a party bus early Monday morning.

"This is something that we spoke about earlier in the year when we talk about the transition of losing so many guys, a guy like myself and Ed Reed and other guys that are based off leadership," Lewis said. "Because I've said it earlier: 'Where would the leadership come from?' Because the leadership being strong in the locker room and winning games, listen talent sometimes can win you games. But when you talk about what's going on off the field, that's the most important place where leadership steps up."

Lewis added, "When you think about the Baltimore Ravens and the transition that they went through, they're missing leadership right now. When you have an incident like [late Sunday] night, the first thing a leader is going to do is find some way to dissolve everything that's going on -- and actually dissolve it before it comes to that type of head or even gets to this point. When you talk about the Baltimore Ravens, they're going to have to refocus and find some quick leaders in that locker room very quickly."

It should be pointed out that the party bus was organized by offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, who was signed by the Ravens a couple of years ago after Lewis and Reed had vouched for him. I agree with Lewis that the leaders in the Ravens locker room have to make it clear that a similar incident like this can't happen again.

But it's impossible for the Ravens' new leaders like Terrell Suggs and Joe Flacco can police everyone on a 53-man roster. Lewis wasn't always able to keep every player in check during his 17 years with the team. It was during Lewis' watch when cornerback Chris McAlister had his off-field problems.

This incident with Jones and McKinnie is just one incident, albeit a very embarrassing one for the organization. How many party bus references did Ravens fans see on Facebook today? If mistakes like these are repeated, then it's fair game to say the Ravens miss the leadership of Lewis and Reed.

You can click on the video above to hear Lewis address the Ravens' leadership issue. Lewis also talked about the Ravens' leadership void before the team's game against the Cleveland Browns.

Rapid Reaction: Ravens 30, Texans 9

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
4:11
PM ET

BALTIMORE -- A few thoughts on the Baltimore Ravens' 30-9 win against the Houston Texans:

What it means: The Ravens reasserted themselves as a team to watch in the AFC just two weeks after being embarrassed in Denver. On the strength of defense and special teams, the Ravens handed the Texans their first loss of the season and avenged a 30-point loss in Houston from a year ago. The Ravens remain in first place in the AFC North by improving to 2-1 this season.

Stock Watch:

Rising: James Ihedigbo. He was the best safety on the field on the day Ed Reed returned to Baltimore. Ihedigbo had nine tackles, including two for losses, two passes defensed (including one on fourth down) and one quarterback hit. Ihedigbo was supposed to be holding the starting spot until rookie Matt Elam was ready, but he has been one of the pleasant surprises for this defense.

Falling: Discipline in the first half. The Ravens were flagged eight times in the first 22 1/2 minutes of the game. The Ravens had too many players on the field on a field-goal attempt, which gave the Texans a first down, and left tackle Bryant McKinnie was called for a facemask penalty twice. But, to the Ravens' credit, they finished with nine.

Replacing Ray: On the day the Ravens inducted Ray Lewis into the Ring of Honor, his replacement made the game-changing play of the game. Daryl Smith jumped a pass to Owen Daniels to pick off Matt Schaub and ran it back 37 yards for the score. Smith's first career interception return for a touchdown put the Ravens, who had struggled on offense, ahead 10-6 late in the second quarter.

Birthday boy: Less than two minutes after Smith's score, Tandon Doss celebrated his 24th birthday with a 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. It was the fifth-longest punt return in Ravens history. Not bad for a player who was cut three weeks ago and was only re-signed when returner Jacoby Jones injured his knee. This capped a spurt in which the Ravens scored 17 points in three minutes, 26 seconds.

What's next: The Ravens (2-1) go on the road with a couple of AFC East trips, at Buffalo on Sunday and at Miami the next week.

Ravens report card vs. Browns

September, 16, 2013
9/16/13
10:15
AM ET
Grading the Baltimore Ravens in their 14-6 win against the Cleveland Browns:

Quarterback: Joe Flacco played his best in the second half, when he was more decisive on his throws and came up big on third downs. It wasn't a matter of him being distracted by the birth of his second son before the game. He just stopped throwing those jump balls downfield. It wasn't an electric performance. But it was an efficient and winning one. Grade: B.

Running backs: Another tough day for the backs, who didn't get much running room up front. Outside of a 14-yard run early in the second half, Ray Rice didn't show much explosion. He also fumbled before leaving with a hip injury. Backup Bernard Pierce ran hard, leading the team in rushing yards (57) and broken tackles. Grade: C-minus.

Wide receivers/tight ends: Torrey Smith carried the Ravens' offense in the first half with half of the team's catches by working the middle of the field. Rookie Marlon Brown didn't sulk after dropping a touchdown pass in the first half and had a strong second half, which included a five-yard touchdown. The wide receivers, though, still need to get more consistent separation. Even though the Ravens again didn't get much from the tight end position, Ed Dickson was an integral blocker. He drove back Jabaal Sheard on Pierce's five-yard touchdown run. Grade: B-minus.

Offensive line: The line gave Flacco time in the pocket but didn't open up holes for Rice and Pierce. The interior of the line held up much better than the tackles. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie whiffed several times in the run game and got beat by Barkevious Mingo for a sack on the rookie's first defensive play in the NFL. Right tackle Michael Oher couldn't get much push because of an ankle injury, but played far better than anyone the Ravens could have put there. Grade: C.

Defensive line: There were times when the Ravens' front got pushed back more than they would've liked, but this group accomplished its main goal: contain Browns running back Trent Richardson. He averaged 3.2 yards per carry and didn't break a run longer than nine yards. The most impressive player was Arthur Jones, who got a sack and some other pressures with his bull-rush. It was his first game of the season after missing time with an irregular heartbeat. Grade: B.

Linebackers: Terrell Suggs won his matchup with Pro Bowl left tackle Joe Thomas, and Elvis Dumervil dominated right tackle Mitchell Schwartz. They combined for two sacks and six quarterback hits. This overshadowed the performance of Daryl Smith, who led the team with 11 tackles and played well in coverage (although he should have held on to a potential interception). Courtney Upshaw came up big on a fourth-down tackle of Jordan Cameron in the fourth quarter. Grade: A.

Secondary: The defensive backs allowed too many receivers to get open once again, and a better quarterback would have made them pay more. Still, Jimmy Smith had a solid showing in the second half and got his hand on two passes. Even though he missed one tackle, Lardarius Webb remains one of the best tackling cornerbacks and finished with nine stops. Rookie safety Matt Elam had trouble with Cameron on the Browns' first play of the game, but he rebounded well and was physical when dropping into the box. Grade: C-plus.

Special teams: There was the good: Tandon Doss surprisingly made plays on punt returns, averaging 14.3 yards. Then there was the bad: Justin Tucker missed two field goals in nearly identical fashion, hitting wide right from 50 and 44 yards. The Ravens' punt coverage team held dangerous returner Travis Benjamin (4.8-yard average) in check. Grade: B-minus.
For most of the offseason, the top storylines for the Baltimore Ravens' offensive line have been about the preseason battle at center and Marshal Yanda's recovery from shoulder surgery. But the biggest development in the preseason has been the poor run blocking by the Ravens' starting offensive line.

Five linemen who have started for the Ravens this preseason have received negative run grades from Pro Football Focus: left guard Kelechi Osemele; centers Gino Gradkowski and A.Q. Shipley; right guard Jah Reid; and right tackle Michael Oher. It's the primary reason running back Ray Rice has averaged 2.9 yards per carry in three preseason games. At times, it's been difficult for Rice to reach the line of scrimmage without getting hit.

The lineman who has struggled the most is Osemele, whose minus-6.8 run block grade is the lowest for all guards this preseason. The next lowest-rated guard is the San Francisco 49ers' Al Netter, and he was cut three days ago.

Osemele is the Ravens' most promising young offensive lineman. He's smart, athletic and versatile. Last season, Osemele became the first rookie to start a full season on the Ravens' offensive line, starting all 16 regular-season games at right tackle before moving to left guard in the postseason. Pro Football Focus gave Osemele a positive run blocking grade last season, but he ranked 30th among tackles in that category.

Excluding Yanda, who played one quarter this preseason, the only starting offensive lineman for the Ravens who received a positive run grade this preseason is left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who ranked fourth among tackles.
It's getting to that point in training camp when a practice is a success if every key player gets through without suffering an injury. Some AFC North teams weren't so lucky. Here's the wake-up call ...

RAVENS: Offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie told The Baltimore Sun that he reported to training camp 10 pounds over assigned weight of 346 pounds. Why was he overweight? Well, according to McKinnie, it has nothing to do with what he's been eating. "Another thing I learned is I need to stop lifting," McKinnie said. "Lifting kind of bulks me up and makes me heavy. I haven't been lifting this camp, just doing cardio. My strength was never an issue. I did lifting because that's what we were supposed to do. I stopped lifting to get down to weight and focusing mainly on cardio."

BENGALS: Another wide receiver has gone down in training camp as slot receiver Andrew Hawkins injured his left ankle going after an Andy Dalton pass. “I know he shouldn’t dive for the ball," coach Marvin Lewis told The Cincinnati Enquirer. "I keep harping on the same thing.” This has been a tough camp for Cincinnati receivers. A.J. Green is out with a knee bruise, and Marvin Jones is also banged up. In total, four starters didn't practice for the Bengals on Wednesday: Green, left tackle Andrew Whitworth (knee), tight end Jermaine Gresham (hamstring) and defensive end Carlos Dunlap (concussion).

STEELERS: Could this be the final season for defensive end Brett Keisel? He turns 35 next month and he's the oldest Steelers starter. “I haven't really thought about what is going to happen in the future,” Keisel told The Pittsburgh Tribune-Reveiew. “I'm focused on this year, leading this team this year and getting us back to where we belong.” Keisel, a starter since 2006, is making $4.5 million in the final season of his contract.

BROWNS: Here's the good news for the Browns: Wide receiver Josh Gordon returned to practice Thursday after missing two days with a knee injury. And here's the bad news: David Nelson, who is competing for the No. 4 spot, was sidelined the same day after feeling discomfort in his surgically repaired right knee. "I don’t think it was anything major," coach Rob Chudzinski said, via The Plain Dealer. "We will get that checked and report back (Friday)."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh didn't waste any time to set the theme for the defending Super Bowl champions' training camp.

"First post-practice press conference of the 2013 season," Harbaugh told reporters last week, "so I guess that means that 2012 is behind us, right?"

No one in the organization is wearing a Super Bowl ring. The two Lombardi trophies won by the Ravens aren't sitting in the lobby of the team's headquarters. Even two of the most prominent players in franchise history -- Ray Lewis and Ed Reed -- are gone.

This is more than distancing themselves from a Super Bowl hangover. The Ravens have undergone a Super Bowl team makeover. This is a new team with new challenges. In many ways, this is a new era.

When you factor in the season-ending injury to tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens will take the field in 2013 with 10 different starters from the team that beat the San Francisco 49ers in the Super Bowl in February; six on defense, four on offense. How drastic is this change? No previous Super Bowl champion has lost more than five starters the following year.

The Ravens can't say this was part of some grand scheme to be revolutionary. A salary-cap crunch forced some tough decisions and even tougher divorces. Many have counted out the possibility of a Ravens repeat because of these losses. The Ravens, though, believe they remain a title contender because of the players who will replace them, such as pass-rusher Elvis Dumervil, defensive lineman Chris Canty, safety Michael Huff and first-round pick Matt Elam.

“Every move we’ve made is what’s best for our football team to be the best team we can. Period. ... We’ll just see where that takes us,” Harbaugh said. “I’m pretty excited about it. I think we can be a very good football team. But we have to prove it.”

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. Figuring out the No. 2 wide receiver. The one move that the Ravens will second-guess is trading wide receiver Anquan Boldin to the 49ers for a sixth-round draft pick because he refused to reduce his $6 million salary. This leaves the Ravens with Torrey Smith as the No. 1 wide receiver and a bunch of question marks.

The favorite at this point is Jacoby Jones, but team officials won't just hand the job over to him. Jones will have to win it. You get a feeling that the team would like one of its young receivers to take over the No. 2 spot, which would allow Jones to focus on his true strengths. Jones was a difference-maker in the playoffs as a field-stretching No. 3 receiver and a returner. But there's no proven experience beyond Smith and Jones, the only two wide receivers on the Ravens' roster who have caught more than seven passes in a season.

"I will play whatever role they want me to play," Jones said. "If they want me to hand out the water, I will be the best water boy there is."

The other receivers are making an impression early in camp. Tandon Doss, who is considered more of a possession receiver since being a fourth-round pick in 2011, looks more explosive. Deonte Thompson, who went undrafted a year ago, has the talent to develop into a starting receiver in this league, but he has to be more consistent. And David Reed, who has been an afterthought in this competition, has bulked up.

[+] EnlargeJacoby Jones
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyJacoby Jones looks to move up the depth chart following the departure of Anquan Boldin.
All four receivers have rotated into the starting lineup in the first week of camp. “That’s exactly the plan,” Harbaugh said. “We’re rotating those guys by period usually, and we’re giving them all a chance to work with the first group and work with Joe [Flacco].”

2. The state of the offensive line. Most of the players blocking for Flacco right now likely will not do so in the regular-season opener in Denver. Right guard Marshal Yanda (offseason shoulder surgery) is on the physically unable to perform list. Left guard Kelechi Osemele is sitting out some practices after tweaking his hamstring. And left tackle Bryant McKinnie is working himself back into shape.

The only starters in front of Flacco right now are right tackle Michael Oher and first-year starting center Gino Gradkowski, who has to prove he's strong enough to be a center at this level. As a result, Flacco isn't getting much time in the pocket, not even on his three-step drops. Although none of these injuries is serious, the Ravens need to get this group together as quickly as possible to get their chemistry back.

The reason the Ravens believe this offensive line will be better than last year's group is Juan Castillo. His title is run game coordinator, but make no mistake, he's running this offensive line. Castillo is a respected offensive line coach from his days with the Philadelphia Eagles, and he's also one of the more motivated coaches in the league after being fired following two tumultuous seasons as the Eagles' defensive coordinator. Several teams were interested in adding Castillo to their staff, but Harbaugh had an edge. He's known Castillo since he was in fifth grade.

3. Availability of inside linebacker Jameel McClain. The original prognosis was that McClain would be sidelined for six months after suffering a spinal cord contusion. Nine months later, McClain still hasn't been cleared for football activities. This is a big deal for the Ravens, even though McClain is hardly a big name around the league. While the spotlight has been on Lewis for years, McClain has been an underrated force in the middle for Baltimore.

McClain's slower-than-expected recovery hasn't put the Ravens in a vulnerable position. Already knowing the team had to replace the retired Lewis, Baltimore drafted Arthur Brown in the second round, and the team has been impressed with his ability to run sideline to sideline. Then, after the team's first choice at inside linebacker, Rolando McClain, abruptly retired, the Ravens signed Daryl Smith, a free agent from the Jacksonville Jaguars, on June 5.

If McClain is unable to return for the regular season, Smith would start at inside linebacker with Brown. The Ravens had been monitoring Smith throughout the offseason, but they wanted to wait until June to sign him so he wouldn't count against them getting an additional compensatory pick next year.

“Daryl is a very intelligent player,” Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. “You can tell he’s a veteran. He plays smooth. He’s got heavy hands. He’s a tough guy. I really love his personality -- fits right in with our room."

REASON FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeElvis Dumervil
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyPass-rusher Elvis Dumervil is one of the Ravens' high-profile offseason acquisitions.
On paper, the Ravens have a better defense than a year ago. That's not saying much. A franchise known for stopping the run and picking off quarterbacks, the Ravens finished 17th in the NFL in yards allowed (5,615) last season. Baltimore improved its pass rush by replacing Paul Kruger with Dumervil. The Ravens upgraded their defensive line with Canty. They also added two well-rounded safeties in Elam and Huff to fill the void left by Reed, who struggled with tackling, and Pollard, who struggled in pass coverage. Plus, the Ravens get back their best cornerback in Lardarius Webb, who suffered a season-ending knee injury in October.

Offensively, the Ravens have the potential to improve if Flacco has truly turned the corner. Last season, after Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator, Flacco averaged 283.8 yards per game with 15 touchdowns and one interception. If Flacco can carry this over in 2013, the Ravens will have a top-10 offense.

REASON FOR PESSIMISM

There are always going to be doubts about Flacco because he hasn't been able to play at a high level for 16 games in the regular season. The pressure will be on Flacco to produce after he signed a $120.6 million contract this offseason. He'll have to validate that contract with not much of a supporting cast this season. He lost his top two targets from a year ago in Boldin and Pitta. They accounted for 36 receptions in the postseason, which was nearly half of Flacco's completions.

Where Flacco will miss Boldin and Pitta the most is in the red zone. The Ravens will be vulnerable if they are scoring field goals instead of touchdowns. There will be little room for error for the Ravens, who have to hold off the upstart Bengals to win the AFC North for a third straight season.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • One apparent change since Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator was moving Flacco out of the pocket more. It was more of the same in the first couple of practices in camp. Flacco, though, doesn't want to be the next RG III. "You hope that you have some room in there to move around and look for guys," Flacco said. "But I’m not going to make a living doing it. And if I was to do that, I’d probably be out of the game after like four of them and on the sideline for the rest of the season."
  • Terrell Suggs has never been a workout warrior, but he took his training to another level this offseason. He reported to training camp in the best shape of his 11-year career. Some of the motivation comes from the fact that he wants to reclaim his title as best defender in the league after an Achilles injury slowed him down in 2012. He also wants to prove his worth to the Ravens considering his base salary in 2014 jumps to $7.8 million.
  • Another veteran who is in much better shape than a year ago is Haloti Ngata, who is working at a new position at nose tackle. The addition of Canty allowed Ngata to move inside, where Ngata is more comfortable and effective. It's clear Ngata is carrying fewer pounds when you see him run down the line and disrupt the stretch running plays.
  • Let's not write off Ray Rice too quickly. There's been a clamoring in the Ravens' fan base for backup running back Bernard Pierce to get more carries because he had a stronger finish to last season than Rice. Although the Ravens are wise not to overload Rice, he's still the best playmaker at running back. Look at fourth-and-29 in San Diego if you need a reminder. Pierce has shown the ability to get yards on defenses after the Ravens have worn them down. He's not in the same league as Rice yet.
  • Rookie fullback Kyle Juszczyk has to prove himself as a lead blocker, especially in short-yardage situations. Some have already been calling for the Ravens to re-sign Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach. But Juszczyk has been effective as a receiver. One local reporter nicknamed him "Little Pitta."
  • The natural assumption is that the signing of Dumervil will reduce playing time for outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw. That may not be true. The Ravens like Upshaw's impact on run defense and his ability to set the edge. It wouldn't surprise me if Upshaw played a majority of the early downs, which would keep Dumervil fresh as a pass-rusher.
  • It was last year at this time when the Ravens were deciding between Justin Tucker and Billy Cundiff at kicker. Harbaugh made the right move in going with Tucker, but it was far from a no-brainer. Tucker was an undrafted rookie and Cundiff was a year removed from being a Pro Bowl kicker. Tucker didn't convincingly win the battle, but it was enough to beat out Cundiff, who had that painful miss in the AFC Championship Game the previous postseason. Tucker converted 30 of 33 field goals (90.9 percent), the second-best success rate for a rookie in NFL history. He made a 58-yard field goal in training camp this year. Cundiff, meanwhile, is with the New York Jets, his third team since getting cut by the Ravens in August 2012.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

Insider

AFC NORTH SCOREBOARD