There was a “different feeling” looming around the Baltimore Ravens’ practice facility in Owings Mills, Md., as the team officially opened its 2014 training camp on July 23.
It was the first time since Ravens head coach John Harbaugh took over in 2008 that the Ravens came off a season that did not end with a playoff appearance. Baltimore reached five straight playoffs during the Harbaugh era, capped by a Super Bowl championship in 2012, but missed the postseason last season with an 8-8 record.
Ravens veteran linebacker and defensive captain Terrell Suggs told reporters that fact “definitely” has his teammates feeling more edgy as they prepare for the oncoming season.
“I think there’s a little bit more ‘get after it,’ so to say,” Suggs said during the first day of training camp. “We had a bad taste in our mouth. It’s been the first time since Coach [Harbaugh] got here in 2008 that we didn’t make the playoffs. It’s clear how something like that can be taken for granted.”
Suggs said it is a unified goal among the team to do what it takes to get the Ravens back to the winning form they possessed throughout the last half-decade.
“Talking to the guys during the offseason about what happened, it was like, ‘you know what, we need to rededicate ourselves to our purpose and to our standard and things we’re used to achieving around here,’” Suggs said. “We know what our mission is, we know what our goal is, and we’re here to achieve some good things.”
Steve Smith Sr. Brings Leadership in Huddle, with Play
Most of the impact players from last season—including Suggs, Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, Super Bowl MVP quarterback Joe Flacco and star running back Ray Rice—are still with the team. But Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome also brought in new additions, including 14-year veteran and former Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith Sr., who should help the Ravens get back in playoff contention.
Smith Sr. was easily the most impressive Raven during the first week of training camp. Long known as one of the most fiery and aggressive players in the league, Smith Sr. has brought an attitude to the team that the Ravens may have missed last season following the retirement of long-time field general Ray Lewis. Smith Sr. is a savvy veteran with a knack for being a vocal leader, a role in which Flacco has never felt comfortable. Now Flacco won’t have to focus on motivational speeches and pep talks; he has Smith Sr. in the huddle to do that.
The veteran receiver also brings extreme toughness and a pair of very reliable hands to the Ravens’ arsenal of offensive weapons. Last season, the Ravens’ receiving corps suffered tremendously following the sudden and shocking trade of veteran receiver Anquan Boldin. One of the most physically tough and sure-handed receivers in the NFL, Boldin caught nearly everything Flacco tossed his way during the Ravens’ Super Bowl run. The team missed his presence last year, but Smith Sr. may be the perfect replacement. Smith Sr. is easily just as tough as Boldin and a lot faster. At 5 feet, 9 inches, Smith Sr. isn’t as big as the 6-foot, 1-inch, 230-pound Boldin, but the way Smith Sr. plays, you couldn’t tell. Smith Sr. can leap and attack the ball in the air with the best of any big men and he comes back to the ball more aggressively than any other receiver in the league. He may not be as fast as he was 10 years ago when he was burning every cornerback up the field, but he can still fly; he burned speedy cornerback Lardarius Webb several times on deep passes down field during the first three practices of trainingcamp.
Flacco in Control of Kubiak’s New Offense
Another new addition to the Ravens this offseason was offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who installed his own offensive system, one far different from the system that former coordinator Cam Cameron ran in Baltimore from 2008 to 2012. Kubiak told reporters during training camp that Flacco has picked up his offense fast and is in full control on the field.
“The most important thing is [Flacco] has adjusted extremely well,” Kubiak said during camp. “He’s got to lead the pack. He’s done that from day one. He’s got total command of what’s going on right now.”