It's safe to say the Baltimore Ravens' 2012 season went well. Ray Lewis rode off into the sunset with a Super Bowl win over the San Francisco 49ers, and quarterback Joe Flacco was rewarded with a diamond-studded contract in the offseason.
The road to a repeat championship is notoriously rocky in the NFL, however. The Ravens lost a lot of key veterans after their win. In addition to Lewis' retirement, wide receiver Anquan Boldin, outside linebacker Paul Kruger, inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and safety Ed Reed will all be playing for new teams in 2013, and all played pivotal roles in the Ravens' run up to the Super Bowl.
Of course, the Ravens have several important players returning, including Flacco, running back Ray Rice, defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and esteemed pass rusher Terrell Suggs. The Ravens should field a formidable team once again, but whether circumstances will fall in their favor remains to be seen.
The Ravens may not have won a Super Bowl without any one of the departed players mentioned above. Boldin was the team's most consistent red zone threat. The value of Kruger and Ellerbe was reflected in the hefty free agent contracts they signed. Reed is headed for the Hall of Fame after he retires. That said, the Ravens were able to counter some of the losses this offseason.
The Ravens can thank a fax machine mishap for bring outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil to Baltimore. Dumervil is coming off an 11-sack season with the Denver Broncos, and could prove to be an upgrade over Kruger on the edge of the defense. Lewis and Reed are much tougher to replace, but the Ravens got good value in safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown during the 2013 NFL Draft. Both rookies could start from Week 1 forward. The Ravens may take a step back at those positions, but that doesn't necessarily mean they will struggle.
The wide receiving corps will miss Boldin's presence, but Dennis Pitta's continued emergence at tight end should take away some of the sting. If Flacco can keep himself in the conversation of the league's best passers, then the Ravens' passing game should be fine.
Training camp location and schedule
The Ravens will host 13 open training camp sessions this year, but fans had to enter a lottery on the team's official site to catch practice at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, Md. The facility can only handle 200 fans at once, so the system is necessary lest hundreds of fans be forced to turn around at the gate. The first full-team practice will be July 25, and the last is set for Aug. 13.
Thankfully, the Ravens will also be holding open practices at three open air stadiums that can accommodate more fans. On Sunday, Aug. 4, gates open at 3:30 p.m. ET for a 5 p.m. practice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis. On Sunday, Aug. 11, the Ravens will open up M&T Bank Stadium for another 5 p.m. practice. Both events are free and open to the public.
The Ravens' last public offering will take place at Stevenson University's Mustang Stadium on Aug. 18. The free event also begins at 5 p.m., but fans will once again have to enter a lottery to attend.
No. 2 wide receiver - Torrey Smith emerged as a top-flight deep threat last season, but he also benefited from the presence of Anquan Boldin, who sucked away coverage underneath. Whether the Ravens have anyone who can occupy the same role in 2013 is unclear. Jacoby Jones is frustratingly inconsistent. Beyond him, David Reed, Tandon Doss and Tommy Streeter have yet to make much of any impact catching passes. The Ravens' lack of depth at wide receiver is a little scary.
Center - Matt Birk's retirement left the Ravens without arguably their most consistent offensive player of the last four seasons. Gino Gradkowski was drafted by the Ravens in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, and no doubt benefited from the year he spent behind Birk. He has yet to reach the field much, however, so the Ravens brought in A.Q. Shipley from the Indianapolis Colts to provide competition. If Gradkowski isn't ready to step up, the team hopes Shipley can be a reliable stop-gap.
Defensive tackle - The Ravens could use a number of different permutations along their 3-man front. Haloti Ngata and Chris Canty are the only two surefire starters, with nose tackles Terrance Cody and Brandon Williams, and DE/DT-type substances Arthur Jones and Marcus Spears competing to be included in the rotation, somehow. If Williams and/or Cody are the stronger camp performers, Ngata could be bumped to defensive tackle. If Jones and/or Spears shine, then Ngata would remain at nose and Canty could move to defensive tackle. Baltimore Beat Down likes Jones to emerge as the third man.
Inside linebacker - The Ravens need to replace Lewis and Ellerbe in the starting lineup, but thankfully they have options. Jameel McClain knows the system, Daryl Smith was a solid veteran performer with the Jacksonville Jaguars and rookie Arthur Brown is smart and athletic. The Ravens may take a step back at the position, but that doesn't mean their inside linebackers will be a liability. Few teams enjoyed higher caliber play from their linebackers last season.
Cornerback - Lardarius Webb is locked in as the team's top cornerback, but the other side of the field is still a question mark. Corey Graham was solid in coverage as a free agent signing from the Chicago Bears. Jimmy Smith has three fewer years of experience, but better physical attributes as a former first-round pick. The Ravens should be ok.