Aging Ravens need a new crop of players to step into starring roles

Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston gives the Ravens mixed grades in the team's 13-7 win in their opening game of the 2016 season

The Ravens need the emergence of some new stars or their new season could crash and burn like last year.

There is no need for a snap judgment after one game, but there were some signs that indicate some of the team's older stars might not return to their previous levels, or even make it through the season.


Pro Bowl performers such as receiver Steve Smith Sr. and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, who both recovered from torn Achilles injuries in the offseason, played in the Ravens 13-7 season-opening win against Buffalo, but were hardly dominant.

1.) The secondary stood tall and that could be a big deal.

Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who had offseason foot surgery, didn't play at all. Tight end Dennis Pitta, who has missed most of the last two seasons with hip injuries, took 56 of the team's 68 offensive snaps — more than any other skill player except quarterback Joe Flacco.


It's going to be tough for him to hold up at that pace, and it certainly won't be as a run blocker, because he got pushed around Sunday.

The Ravens need some new stars. It's time for the emergence of running backs Terrance West and Kenneth Dixon (currently injured(, linebackers Zachary Orr, Za'Darius Smith and C.J. Mosley, receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams.

It's the ideal time because some of the team's veterans — Steve Smith, safety Eric Weddle and running back Justin Forsett — are good mentors. It's easy to see in practice or on the sidelines during games.

Forsett talks about life lessons as much as the Xs and Os. Smith not only puts in time with fellow receivers Perriman, Chris Moore and Mike Wallace, but he spends just as much with cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Shareece Wright, working on technique. In training camp, whenever Flacco completed long passes against the defense, Weddle often went to the sideline asking him for ideas and then would go back and talk things over with members of the secondary.

Unlike last season when the Ravens' secondary needed a GPS system to find its way, they have Weddle and defensive backs coach Leslie Frazier giving them new direction.

It's difficult to predict how much some of the veterans have left. Smith might end up being Flacco's No. 1 receiver, but on Sunday his timing was off with Flacco. Suggs is in good shape as far as appearance, but he didn't show his once-lethal explosion coming off the edge as a pass rusher.

Pitta came up with some big catches against the Bills and finished with three receptions for 39 yards, but repeteadly got jammed attempting to run block. His body can't hold up under that stress level every week.

That's why the Ravens need a youth transfusion; they need new life in this franchise. They finally got some big vertical plays from speedsters Perriman and Wallace on Sunday, but now they have to do it every week.

"That's something we have to keep chasing," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "Those two plays were differences in the game. We don't win the game without those two plays. We need more of those plays."

Forsett is a solid running back, but the future belongs to West and Dixon. It's hard to understand why Pitta took so many snaps when young backups Crockett Gillmore and Williams combined for only 39.

Is Gillmore hurt? Is Williams ever going to be ready for prime time? After all, he was a second-round pick in 2015.

On Sunday, the Bills attacked the Ravens' outside linebackers. The line, led by Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan, played well, and they could become future stars even though both need to get better as pass rushers.


With Suggs trying to regain his form, Za'Darius Smith, Albert McClellan and Matthew Judon have to come up with big plays as far as pressure in the passing game. As for Mosley, a third-year player, he finished with two tackles, only one unassisted, against Buffalo. That's almost unheard of from a middle linebacker.

In Sunday's win, there were some notable differences from last year's team. The Ravens came up with enough big plays on offense to win and they have more overall speed on defense. Shareece Wright and Jimmy Smith played the best game in recent years from a set of Ravens cornerbacks.

But those were the Bills. The Ravens won't see much difference next week when they play Cleveland, especially on offense. The Browns didn't have a drive of more than seven plays against Philadelphia on Sunday.

Injuries play a major part in every season and the Ravens aren't sure if their veterans can play at a high level again or hold up through an entire season.

They need some of the young guys to begin perform to their potential. They need some new stars.

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