July 28, 2017 -- Sports columnist Peter Schmuck on the injury to tight end Crockett Gillmore and coach John Harbaugh on free-agent QB Colin Kaepernick. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Two days into training camp and the difference is already noticeable.
Unlike a year ago when the Ravens weren't good enough in the secondary to either blitz much or bring consistent pressure, they have become more aggressive in their approach.
The Ravens have gone old school, back to the days when they had cornerbacks who specialized in press coverage and attacked.
"You might have noticed that we're getting up in people's face a lot," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "I think that's what people are going to see when they play against us. They're going to see a lot of press coverage, and that's how we want to play and have always wanted to play. It goes back, probably, with this franchise, all the way back."
The Ravens wanted to upgrade the secondary during the offseason. They weren't terrible last season. They were ranked No. 9 in the NFL in pass defense, allowing an average of 232.8 yards a game.
But the real problem was that in the last couple of seasons they couldn't beat top-notch quarterbacks like Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in big games or the postseason. If the Ravens had been able to at least tackle properly last season in Game 15 against Pittsburgh, they would have been in the playoffs.
So instead of loading up on offensive talent during the past five months, general manager Ozzie Newsome signed free agents such as cornerback Brandon Carr and safety Tony Jefferson. He drafted Alabama cornerback Marlon Humphrey with the team's top pick in the 2017 college draft.
"I am really elated to have the kind of talent that we have in our secondary," defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt said. "We have more depth than we had in a lot of years here. There are a lot of guys that are going to be counted on throughout the year, because you know in the secondary guys go down, and we have had some people throughout the years go down that we were counting on, and we were pretty thin there. This year, we have a lot of depth, and that is the thing that I am really proud of. On top of that, we have talent."
Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees has been in a Catch-22 situation the past couple of seasons. Because his cornerbacks weren't always physical enough to play press coverage, it limited the amount of times he could blitz or bring pressure.
If he was creative up front it than was a gamble on the back end. That has changed, at least so far into training camp.
With Jimmy Smith, Carr and Humphrey, the Ravens have three cornerbacks who are at least 6-foot. All three have long arms and Humphrey, who had a strong practice Friday, is the runt of the group at 197 pounds.
The Ravens want them to be able to tie up receivers at the line of scrimmage.
"We have some length at corner, and we signed Tony Jefferson this year back there, and he is going to be a hard-hitter for us back there, a type of intimidator and tackler," Hewitt said. "We are a solid secondary, and we are growing to be one of the better secondaries in this league."
Jefferson gives the Ravens a thumper in the deep third of the field, something they haven't had since Bernard Pollard left after the 2012 season. While with the Arizona Cardinals, Jefferson's style of play was similar to that of fellow safety Eric Weddle — basically a strong safety who crowded the line of scrimmage.
But in recent minicamps Jefferson showed good range and the ability to drop deep in coverage.
The Ravens also have a good blend of youth and experience. Lardarius Webb, a nine-year veteran, can be a starting cornerback or nickel back if needed, as well as a backup safety. The Ravens have two good young prospects at cornerback in second-year players Maurice Canady and Sheldon Price.
Now, it's all a matter of defining roles and developing chemistry. This group has the most potential of any secondary under Harbaugh.
"I'm more excited about that – that's the idea," said Harbaugh of the mix. "You put two experienced players in there, on top of Eric [Weddle] and Jimmy [Smith], with our young guys, to me, is pretty exciting. 'Webby' [Lardarius Webb] … We have a nice mix of players who've done it before and also, some good young players. We expect our secondary to be dominant."