New-look Ravens hoping to make run at another title

Ray Rice runs the ball in the first half of the Baltimore Ravens' preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore Thursday, August 22, 2013.
Ray Rice runs the ball in the first half of the Baltimore Ravens' preseason game against the Carolina Panthers at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore Thursday, August 22, 2013. (DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO, Carroll County Times)

The Lombardi Trophy from Super Bowl XLVII sits behind a glass case directly to your left as you walk into Ravens team headquarters, just beyond the double doors that lead into the building and just to the side of a large gas fireplace that has a nearly life-size picture of former majority owner Art Modell directly above it.
The trophy is a constant reminder for anyone who walks through the Ravens' lobby of what Baltimore accomplished last season.
So is the Super Bowl XLVII banner that hangs high on the far end of the Ravens' indoor practice field just past the field goal posts and adjacent to a longer banner of the Lombardi Trophy that has a banner commemorating the Ravens' Super Bowl XXXV win on the other side of it.
There's no denying, the Ravens were the champions of the 2012 NFL season. But for as much as the past several months have been defined by the spoils that come along with being Super Bowl champions - the victory parade, the White House visit, the ring ceremony - the focus more so from within the organization during that time has been re-tooling, reloading and improving with the intention of making a run at another Lombardi Trophy this season.
"I think we were a good team, I think we've been a good team, and I think our expectations for ourselves are to be a very good team again," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said earlier this summer. "But I don't think we think about last year at all. Our team is different, just like it is every year. We've got a lot of guys that are hungry to get to where we were last year. We have a lot of guys that are hungry to get back to where we were last year.
"Every season is a new season and you kind of approach it in little different ways and ways you think you can get better. I haven't really thought about an encore. I've just kind of thought about getting the best we can get so that we can go out there and win some more football games."
That's something that will have to be done without numerous key figures from the Super Bowl run.
Yes, Baltimore won the Super Bowl, but there were several areas of concern on the team that general manager Ozzie Newsome spent the winter, spring and part of the summer addressing, most notably a defense that struggled for large portions of last year.
The Ravens, who ranked among the best defenses in the NFL as recently as 2011, finished last season ranked just 17th in total defense, 17th in pass defense, 20th in rush defense and tied for 15th in sacks.
The defense was, at best, average after years of being consistently among the league's best. But after what Baltimore did during the offseason, both through free agency and the draft, the defense once again has the look of a potentially dominant unit.
Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are gone. So are several other players that played key roles on the defense last year like Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger, Bernard Pollard and Cary Williams.
But the Ravens added veterans Chris Canty and Marcus Spears to the defensive line, along with third-round pick Brandon Williams.
They lost Lewis and Ellerbe at inside linebacker, but they signed longtime Jaguars standout Daryl Smith and took Arthur Brown in the second round of the draft.
Kruger left as a free agent, but Baltimore replaced him with three-time Pro Bowler Elvis Dumervil.
And at safety, the Ravens no longer have Reed and Pollard, but they signed veteran Michael Huff to start at free safety, took Matt Elam in the first round of the draft and re-signed veteran James Ihedigbo, who played himself into the starting job at strong safety this summer.
"With all the different guys we got on the D-line, the rotation we could possibly have up there, the new guys at linebacker and the speed we got on the defensive backs, it can be an unbelievable defense out there," Baltimore cornerback Corey Graham said recently. "We see it. We definitely see it. We will continue to work as hard as we possibly can to make it happen."
As for the offense, Flacco is back leading the way, fresh off one of the best postseason runs for any quarterback in NFL history and armed with the six-year, $120.6 million contract he signed during the offseason. But Flacco will try to build on his success from the playoffs without arguably his two most consistent weapons from that Super Bowl run.
Baltimore traded leading receiver Anquan Boldin in March. And tight end Dennis Pitta, who established himself as one of the top pass-catching tight ends in the NFL last season, suffered a serious hip injury earlier this summer and could miss the entire season.
Replacing Boldin and Pitta will be a challenge, something that's been evident through the summer, but the offense does still have talent.
In addition to Flacco, the Ravens have Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice, up-and-coming second-year running back Bernard Pierce, wide receiver Torrey Smith and tight end Ed Dickson.
Baltimore is also enthusiastic about an offensive line that was kept intact with the exception of center Matt Birk, who retired after last season.
"I think we did some things pretty good at times on offense, and especially at the end of the season we started to really hit the ground running," Flacco said earlier this summer. "And I think we've just got to build on that and be consistent and do it throughout the 16-game season and into the playoffs again."
Some of the pieces may be different on both offense and defense - and there may be question marks surrounding the team heading into the regular season - but with Flacco back leading the offense and with the defense revamped, Baltimore believes it has the talent to make another run at a Super Bowl title.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has emphasized throughout the last several months that Baltimore has turned the page to 2013, that the Super Bowl season is now a thing of the past, but he's also made it clear that the Ravens embrace the challenge that comes along with being the most recent team to claim the trophy that sits in the lobby of team headquarters.
"One thing we're going to do is cherish and be proud of this championship forever," Harbaugh said during the spring. "That team, as it was put together, will walk together forever as champions. And now, we'll find out about the 2013 team and how we align and what we're going to be known for and what we're going to stand for as a football team."