An old saying that I can relate to the Baltimore Ravens is that it is always darkest before the dawn. In an offseason that featured too many moments of mourning, John Harbaugh’s new-run offense is looking to start fresh, again. Former Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak jumped ship to become the newest Head Coach for the Denver Broncos. Former Chicago Bears Head Coach Marc Trestman became Joe Flacco’s fourth Offensive Coordinator in as many seasons, signing earlier this offseason.
Another new coach and another new scheme for the franchise Quarterback to take in and digest.
Trestman has a very different approach to the previous coaches in his position. He’s emotional and wear his heart on his sleeve; a very surprising persona for a regular looking, slim built guy standing on the sidelines. Trestman even ran half the length of a football field to high-five 1st round pick Breshad Perriman after making a long touchdown catch just recently in OTAs. You rarely see a coach who has such a cerebral approach to his play calling, yet carries an emotional personality.
Baltimore had the 8th best rushing attack in 2014 and the 13th best in passing. With the West Coast style offense returning in 2015, Trestman will likely have very little to worry about regarding the former. All five of the Raven’s stellar starting Offensive Lineman return for 2015 after a very successful campaign in 2014. However, Flacco’s receiving options have nearly dried out so far this offseason.
The departure of Torrey Smith was arguably the biggest loss for the Ravens this year. A key figure in the locker room and in the Baltimore community, Smith carried a lot of high character with him throughout his tenure with the Ravens. Speaking of Smith’s, the idea of relying more on Steve Smith Sr., who nearly faded out of significance during the end of the 2014 regular season, would generate some doubters to say the least. Go-to Tight End Owen Daniels departed with Coach Kubiak to Denver, leaving the Ravens with significant gaps in their receiving core.
Their first step to solving this was in the NFL Draft; Breshad Perriman became the 26th overall pick for the Ravens. The UCF Wide Receiver possesses elite speed, posting a 4.24 40 yard dash on his Pro Day down at Nicholson Fieldhouse in Orlando in March. Perriman has excellent separation and forces many defensive backs into a “turn and run” mode when in coverage. A very dangerous prospect in the Ravens clubhouse.
The next step to solving the dried up receiving depth came immediately after Perriman got drafted. An hour later, Baltimore selected dynamic TE Maxx Williams with their 2nd round pick, beating out their bitter rivals the Pittsburgh Steelers to nabbing a genuine red-chip player with pick 55. One of the top performers in the NFL Combine back in February, Williams has both size and speed to create instant mismatches with opposing Linebackers and Safeties. And above all else, he’s a red-zone threat given his 6″4 frame and 34.5″ vertical jump.
Beyond the addition of Maxx Williams in the draft, former NFL Top 100 player in 2013 Dennis Pitta returns to the roster after undergoing his second hip surgery in as many years in 2014. Pitta’s recovery is going strong as he continues to showcase an industrious, resilient work ethic in practice towards strengthening his repaired hip. Ravens’ fans will hope for their former stud TE to be 100% healthy come the start of Training Camp.
But even if Pitta is healthy by then, there’s still the big issue surrounding their Wide Receivers. Sure, Perriman can potentially dominate on the strong side as Flacco’s deep threat. Steve Smith can still provide a steady possession target. But what else is after that? A lot of pressure will lie on Marlon Brown after an abysmal 2014 campaign. Coming off a seemingly breakout rookie season in 2013 that included 7 touchdown receptions, Brown could only tally 24 receptions last year and failed to find the endzone. If there’s anyone who needs to thrive in the opportunity to take the weak side spot, the 6″ 5 Marlon Brown must be that guy for the Ravens this preseason.
The other receiver facing pressure is one who came out of nowhere midway through 2014. Once bouncing around practice squads of the Chicago Bears, New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills in 2013, Aiken constantly stuck around in 2014, nabbing a reception or two in a variety of games. Then he travelled to Miami in Week 14 and gave the Ravens organisation reason to take notice. Aiken tallied 6 receptions and 65 yards, including a 13 yard touchdown reception. He now takes snaps with the first team in OTAs with Flacco and co. If there was anyone to save the potential crisis of a lack of receiving depth for the franchise Quarterback in Baltimore, the journeyman turned starter Aiken could very well be that guy.
And finally, there’s Joe Flacco himself. Nothing challenging is confronting the star QB, yet. Imagine if he had fallen in 2014. Would the Ravens had made the postseason with Tyrod Taylor? Unlikely. If Flacco would fall in 2015, can they make the postseason with Matt Schaub? It sounds more convincing at the very least. Even though Matt Schaub had a nightmare tenure with the Oakland Raiders, his reserved game manager approach to the position not only accommodates for Baltimore’s stellar rushing attack, but it takes the pressure off the potentially thin receiving options. The Ravens proved they could win games relying on the ground game in 2014 and there’s no reason they can’t do just that in 2015, with our without Flacco under centre.
The issues are there. So are the learning curves. So are the health woes still clouding plans heading into the final round of OTAs. But even with yet another Offensive Coordinator to make things interesting in Training Camp this preseason, the pieces are there for the Ravens to retain their stellar offense. Look no further than their Offensive Line providing the backbone for any success coming for Flacco and co come the fall.