TALKING POINTS

The Baltimore Sun

GOALS

Tailor the offense around Willis McGahee. Although the Ravens won't abandon their signature I formation, they can spread out defenses more than they ever have under coach Brian Billick because McGahee is comfortable running without a fullback. The coaching staff has talked all offseason about implementing more one-back, three-receiver looks and adding screen and swing passes to the playbook. This will be a welcome change to the Ravens' stagnant look with former featured back Jamal Lewis.

Adjust the defense to life without Adalius Thomas. The only starter lost from the NFL's top-ranked defense is Thomas, who signed a big-money free-agent deal with the New England Patriots. Jarret Johnson, a backup for three of his four seasons, should be a solid starter at Thomas' outside linebacker spot, but it will be interesting to see how much the Ravens will miss the All-Pro. Because Thomas was able to play anywhere on the field, it's unknown whether the Ravens can maintain the same level of unpredictability.

Find a way to boost the vertical passing game. The Ravens' passing attack finished No. 11 in the NFL last season, its highest ranking in Billick's eight seasons. Still, the Ravens struggled to get the ball deep downfield, as quarterback Steve McNair completed just three passes over 40 yards. That was the fewest of any starting quarterback in the AFC North (even the Cleveland Browns' Charlie Frye had six passes over 40 yards). With the same quarterback and receivers, the Ravens have toget more creative to generate big plays.

POSTION BATTLES

Offensive line. The Ravens will start training camp with Mike Flynn at center and Chris Chester at right guard, but the lineup could look different when camp ends. Chester could switch to center if first-round pick Ben Grubbs shows he is ready to start at right guard. Because of his experience, Flynn is expected to start the season but could be pressed during the regular season by Chester, who is the heir apparent at center.

Return specialist. Yamon Figurs, the Ravens' third-round draft pick in April, is trying to unseat B.J. Sams, the team's returner the past three seasons. Sams, who is in the last year of his contract, likely will hold on to the job this season because of his experience. But the long-term answer seems to be Figurs, who was the fastest player at this year's rookie combine. Don't be surprised if the Ravens split the duties, letting Sams return punts and Figurs handle kickoffs.

Situational pass rusher. Offenses will focus their pass protection on the Ravens' right side, where Terrell Suggs will be causing havoc. But the Ravens have to figure out who will be the rush end on the left side in passing situations. It will be likely a combination of Jarret Johnson, Antwan Barnes and Dan Cody (if he's healthy). Barnes, a fourth-round pick, could be the surprise of camp.

RETURNING PLAYERS TO WATCH

Cornerback Samari Rolle. The 30-year old veteran acknowledges that last season was the worst of his career, but he seems determined to prove he isn't too old to be a capable cornerback. If he can bounce back the way Chris McAlister did a year ago, the defense could be stronger than last season.

Offensive tackle Adam Terry. It took until his third season -- and Tony Pashos' departure -- for Terry to become a full-time starter. The knock on Terry is that he lacks a nasty streak, something a right tackle must have to be successful. But Terry is a better athlete and pass protector than Pashos.

Wide receiver Demetrius Williams. The beneficiary of the Ravens using more three receiver formations will be Williams, who is primed for a breakout season. He led the Ravens as a rookie by averaging 18 yards a catch, and it seems as if something big happens every time he gets the ball in his hands.

NEWCOMERS TO WATCH

Running back Willis McGahee. The national media have debated whether trading for McGahee was a sound move. The Ravens say they won't be able to determine how good their running game will be this season until they put the pads on in training camp.

Guard Ben Grubbs. The odds say Grubbs will start this season, even though he hasn't worked with the first team in offseason minicamps. Four of the Ravens' previous five first-round picks (Suggs was the exception) became starters by the season opener.

Quarterback Troy Smith. With McNair getting older and Kyle Boller entering the final year of his contract, the Ravens need to get a feel for whether Smith can be their quarterback of the future. The Heisman Trophy winner must first beat out Drew Olson for the No. 3 quarterback job in camp.

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