Ravens look forward, not backward at training camp
OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Not much has gone right for the Baltimore Ravens in the 17 months since they won the Super Bowl.
After defeating the San Francisco 49ers to claim their second championship, the Ravens sputtered to an 8-8 finish in 2013 and missed the playoffs for the first time since coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008.
During the past offseason five players were arrested — most notably running back Ray Rice, who is awaiting word on a possible suspension for allegedly assaulting his fiancee in Atlantic City.
Harbaugh and the Ravens will attempt to put all that behind them this summer at training camp. Beginning with the first full-team workout Thursday, Baltimore has plenty of work to do before the season opener against the defending AFC North champion Cincinnati Bengals.
The primary focus will be building a cohesive attack under former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who replaces Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator.
“We’ll figure it out,” Kubiak said, “and make sure on opening day we’re doing what we do best.”
Here are some things the Ravens will focus on during training camp:
FLACCO’S FEET: The new offensive scheme calls for quarterback Joe Flacco to be more elusive in the pocket, which would have been a priority anyway after a season in which he absorbed a career-high 48 sacks.
“There’s a lot of play action and stuff like that where (the plays) are a little bit longer in developing, so you’re going to have to move around the pocket a little bit just to find the place to set up,” Flacco said.
Flacco got a taste of the offense during the minicamp sessions and appeared to find a decent comfort level in the pocket.
“Obviously, you’re going to read with your eyes, but we teach to read with your feet,” Kubiak said. “There are certain things going on; the ball has to get going. I’m very impressed with Joe.”
Flacco threw 22 interceptions compared to 19 touchdowns last season. That can’t happen again if Baltimore is to be successful.
THE RIGHT STUFF: One of the most notable duels in camp will be at right tackle, a position that opened up when the Ravens let Michael Oher depart as a free agent.
Rick Wagner is atop the depth chart, but the second-year pro saw most of his action last year as a tight end in the “jumbo” package.
“He definitely shows the tools that he can be a starter for us, and he’s definitely going to compete for that (right tackle) spot,” Pro Bowl guard Marshall Yanda said.
If Wagner can’t handle the job, the Ravens could turn to Ryan Jensen or left guard Kelechi Osemele.
SAFETY FIRST: Although Matt Elam started 15 games at free safety last year, the Ravens would love to make him their strong safety.
For that to happen, either free agent pickup Darian Stewart or rookie Terrence Brooks will have to distinguish themselves as the last line of defense.
Stewart has the edge in experience, having played for St. Louis. But he’s had problems with injuries and started only five games for the Rams last year.
Brooks, a third-round pick out of Florida State, intends to make a run at the starting free safety job.
“Coming into a new system, it’s definitely going to be challenging,” Brooks said. “But for the most part ... I feel like I’ve got a good grasp on how this defense is and the schemes.”
MR. SMITH COMES TO B-MORE: The addition of free agent wide receiver Steve Smith gives the Ravens offense the swagger it lost after Anquan Boldin was traded in the wake of Baltimore’s Super Bowl win.
“It’s good to have that,” Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “We had it a few years ago in 81 (Boldin), and it’s good to have that fire back on that side of the ball, somebody who will go out there and jab back with us and compete.”
Smith provides leadership and an extra set of accomplished hands to go with a receiving group that includes Torrey Smith, Jacoby Jones, Dennis Pitta and newcomer Owen Daniels.
EYES ON RICE: This is a very important season for Rice, who rushed for only 660 yards last year and could begin the season serving a suspension.
Rice was bothered by a hip injury in 2013, one reason for his reduced numbers. He expects improvement in 2014, and so do the Ravens.
But expect his backups, including Bernard Pierce, to see plenty of action this summer as Baltimore prepares for the possibility of starting the schedule without the franchise’s career leader in total yards from scrimmage.
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