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10 Questions for the Ravens

The Baltimore Sun

1. Will the running game improve with Willis McGahee? The belief is yes, although the Ravens didn't convince anyone in the preseason. McGahee won't be as dominating a running back as Jamal Lewis was at his peak, but McGahee is better than Lewis at this point in their careers. McGahee hits the edge quicker and runs with deceptive power inside. But he has yet to prove that after gaining 47 yards on 18 carries in the preseason, a 2.6-yard average.

2. Has the defense adjusted to life without Adalius Thomas? Replacing defensive starters isn't new for the Ravens, who made seamless transitions after losing Rod Woodson, Sam Adams, Duane Starks and Ed Hartwell. This won't be any different. The Ravens will miss Thomas' playmaking ability, but he was nonexistent at times. Teams could negate Thomas because he never protected his legs well. Jarret Johnson, Thomas' replacement, brings a tougher edge to the defense.

3. Will the offense be more productive? The Ravens have the weapons to stretch defenses with Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams and Todd Heap. But don't expect the Ravens to risk throwing deep with any regularity. Steve McNair seems more comfortable as a caretaker than a playmaker, marching down the field with time-consuming drives. His command is the main reason the Ravens led the NFL in time of possession last season.

4. What position is the biggest concern? The Ravens' young offensive line didn't live up to its potential in the preseason and could undergo more transition in the regular season. If Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden is sidelined with a toe injury, Adam Terry will have to start there after spending nearly all the preseason at right tackle. Rookie third-round pick Marshal Yanda, who is projected by some to be a guard, would then start at right tackle.

5. How will the Ravens handle the return game with B.J. Sams and Yamon Figurs? Sams is expected to handle the punt and kickoff returns because the Ravens don't want to risk a game-changing mistake by a rookie. The Ravens could have trouble putting Figurs on the active 45-man roster on game days because he is only a returner. Because Sams is in the final year of his contract, Figurs is the future of the team's return game.

6. Should the Ravens be worried about their number of penalties this preseason? Even in meaningless games, the lack of focus has been disturbing. And penalties aren't a new problem for the Ravens. Last season, the Ravens committed the eighth most (109) in the NFL. This shouldn't be happening with such a mature team.

7. Will first-round pick Ben Grubbs crack the starting offensive line this season? The Ravens don't know the answer to this. It mostly depends on the development of Chris Chester at center. Once Chester shifts from right guard to center, Grubbs would step into the starting lineup. But Mike Flynn, in his seventh year starting at center, had a great training camp and won't give up his job to Chester easily.

8. Will the Ravens sign linebacker Terrell Suggs to a contract extension before the end of the season? Don't be surprised if the Ravens lock up Suggs during the regular season. The Ravens didn't re-sign Thomas in March because they wanted to use that money to keep Suggs, a 24-year-old linebacker who is still improving. It'll likely take a $20 million to $25 million signing bonus, and the sides are continuing to talk.

9. Can quarterback Steve McNair hold up for the entire season? Much of that will depend on his protection. He was sacked only 14 times last season, the result of solid blocking and McNair's awareness in the pocket. If he can avoid the big hits as he did last season, it's a safe bet for him to start 13 or 14 games. The Ravens, though, won't hesitate to turn to backup Kyle Boller, who is in his fifth year in the system.

10. Where do the Ravens rank among the AFC's elite? When the national media are ranking the top teams, the Ravens are generally placed behind New England, Indianapolis and San Diego. But the Colts lost more talent than the Ravens this offseason, and the Chargers made a mistake by choosing Norv Turner as head coach instead of Rex Ryan. On paper, the Ravens and the Patriots should be battling for the AFC championship.

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