The most significant offensive additions the Ravens made this offseason were free-agent wide receiver Jacoby Jones and a pair of rookie linemen in Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski. Their personnel losses include Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs and veteran backups in running back Ricky Williams and wide receiver Lee Evans.
On paper -- and we know the dangers of evaluating football teams on that alone -- it doesn’t appear the Ravens have done much to improve an offense that ranked 12th in points scored and 15th in total yards a season ago. But there is reason to believe that the offense will be better in 2012: They will finally have a little continuity.
In 2008, the Ravens began a four-year personnel shuffle when they drafted quarterback Joe Flacco. In 2009, they signed veteran center Matt Birk, drafted offensive tackle Michael Oher in the first round and put the ball in the hands of running back Ray Rice. In 2010, they drafted pass-catching tight ends Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta and acquired a trio of veteran wideouts in Anquan Boldin,T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth.
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And last offseason, they released wide receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap, who were two of Flacco’s favorite targets, and running back Willis McGahee. They brought in Williams, Evans and left tackle Bryant McKinnie. And they selected speedy wide receiver Torrey Smith in the second round of the NFL draft.
That’s a lot of turnover, especially for an offense that was being piloted by a growing quarterback in Flacco.
But the Ravens will return 10 starters on offense this season, with Grubbs, who signed with the New Orleans Saints, being the lone exception. And Flacco will get a full offseason to find a groove with his young receivers.
“It’s good to get out here and be with a lot of these young guys, a couple new faces, and get a lot of work in,” Flacco told reporters Wednesday after the team’s voluntary organized team activity (OTA) workout. “It’s still a long way from the season and a long way away from training camp, where we’ll get most of our work done. It is always good to come out here, run around and kind of really get a feel for what we’re getting ready to do.”
Last season, the Ravens improved their rankings in both points scored and total yards from 2010, when they ranked 16th and 22nd, respectively. In 2009, the Ravens ranked ninth in points scored and 13th in total offense. And in 2008, Cam Cameron's first season as coordinator, they ranked 11th and 18th, respectively.
After the 2011 season ended with a tough loss in the AFC championship game, Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti explained that one reason he was keeping Cameron as coordinator was that the offense was trending upward.
“Without a doubt we’ll get where we want to be,” Dickson said Wednesday when asked about the familiarity. “Just this offseason, gelling together, working together. It’s going to help a lot. Joe is going to be able to -- I don’t want him to do this -- drop back with his eyes closed, so to say, and know where we will be at all times. He’ll have Anquan, myself, Dennis Pitta, Torrey on the outside. And he’ll gel with those young guys, too.”
The Ravens are still relatively inexperienced at wide receiver, but Smith, Tandon Doss and LaQuan Williams are a year older now. And Smith spoke at length about the benefits of being thrown into the fire last summer after the NFL lockout, which robbed them of precious offseason workouts and quality time with the coaches.
But now that the Ravens are all back together this spring -- Rice and Birk were the only two offensive players who skipped this week’s voluntary workouts -- and have time to develop a rapport with Flacco, Smith feels the offense can take a big leap forward this season, even if they didn’t make any splashy offseason additions.
“We have all the tools to do it. It’s on us to go out there and use this time now to just work, to try to become the best offense that we can,” he said. “We know what the defense is going to bring, and obviously, we want to match that and go above and beyond, become one of the best offenses in the league. And that’s the goal.”