Unlike last year, when nine of the 13 oldest players on the roster of the Super Bowl XLVII champions left the organization either via retirement, release, trade or free agency, there was no significant Ravens’ youth movement this offseason.
Reserve tight end Dallas Clark (35), little-used running back Bernard Scott (30) and starting safety James Ihedigbo (30) didn’t re-sign via free agency and Clark has since retired. Fullback Vonta Leach (32) was let go.
But the Ravens re-signed middle linebacker Daryl Smith (32), gave rush linebacker Terrell Suggs (31) a contract extension, and added veterans Steve Smith (35), Owen Daniels (31) and Aaron Ross (31). Those five players are among the seven oldest Ravens on the roster.
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While getting younger is always a priority for the front office, a bigger emphasis this offseason was placed on getting better.
Daryl Smith was one of the team’s most consistent players last season and his loss would have left a void in the middle of the Ravens’ defense. Steve Smith adds a physical, down-field receiving threat that quarterback Joe Flacco clearly lacked last season. Daniels gives the Ravens another play-making tight end who knows Gary Kubiak’s offense. Ross, signed last week, was added to bolster depth at cornerback and he’s hardly a lock to make the regular-season roster.
And even with those additions, the Ravens still feel that they’ll have a significantly younger roster – and group of starters – than they did last year when they went into Denver to open the 2013 campaign.
“We’re definitely younger. That’s the nature of it,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said last week. “There’s always a cycle of life, so to speak, in the National Football League, and in life, and I’m excited about our young guys.”
Computing the average age of a team in June, when there are 90 players on the roster – a chunk of them being rookie undrafted free agents who likely won’t make the team - is pointless. However, it’s still easy to see how the Ravens can, once again, trend younger.
Kyle Juszczyk (23) will likely replace Leach as the starting fullback. Acquired last October and then re-signed this offseason, Eugene Monroe (27) is significantly younger than his predecessor, Bryant McKinnie (34). Second-year pro Rick Wagner (24) will get the first shot to start at right tackle in place of Michael Oher (28).
On defense, Brandon Williams (25) is the favorite to start at the defensive tackle spot left vacant by the departure of Arthur Jones (27). Rookie C.J. Mosley (22) and second-year player Arthur Brown (24) will compete for the starting weak-side linebacker job that Jameel McClain (28) held at the end of last season. Chykie Brown (27) and Asa Jackson (24) are eyeing the third cornerback role that was previously held by Corey Graham (28). And Darian Stewart (25) and Matt Elam (22) would be a far younger starting safety combination than the pair that began last season in Denver: Ihedigbo and Michael Huff (31).
The promotion of young players into bigger roles and a reliance on rookies to grow up fast is all part of the Ravens’ organization philosophy and a desire to remake the roster every offseason to annually compete for the Lombardi Trophy and avoid a massive tear down every five or six offseasons.
At the start of the 2012 season, the average age of the Ravens’ roster was 27 years, 172 days, which qualified as the eighth oldest roster in the NFL. The average age of the team’s starters in Super Bowl XLVII was 28.9, making them the 10th-oldest lineup to play in the Super Bowl.
We’ll see where the 2014 Ravens fall when the 53-man roster is set ahead of the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against the Cincinnati Bengals. As things stand, 54 of the 90 players on the roster currently have three years of NFL experience or less.
The Ravens also have just nine players on their roster who are currently 30 years of age or older. Comparing that to the rest of the division, the Pittsburgh Steelers have 12, the Bengals have 10 and the Cleveland Browns have seven.
In fact, Harbaugh has enough youth on his roster where the head coach has vowed to make training camp workouts more physical because the young players need the repetitions.
“We have good, young players who like football,” Harbaugh said. “They’re sturdy guys, they practice, they can stack days on top of days, and that’s how you improve.”