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Schmuck: Before training camp even begins, injuries a concern for Ravens

The Ravens will officially begin training for the 2017 season on Thursday … but first, a little more bad news.

Coach John Harbaugh confirmed Wednesday afternoon that promising running back Kenneth Dixon will be lost for the season because of a knee injury, adding to an offseason drumbeat of personnel losses that call into question whether the team can shake off two disappointing seasons to return to the playoffs.

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Quarterback Joe Flacco is also dealing with back soreness as camp is about to start, but his injury isn't expected to be a long-term concern.

The year started with the devastating news in January that linebacker — and last season's leading tackler — Zachary Orr had been diagnosed with a potentially life-threatening spinal condition. He recently recanted his retirement announcement, but will not be playing in Baltimore this season.

Then came the ACL injury to young cornerback Tavon Young on June 1 and the hip injury the following day that ended the NFL career of popular tight end Dennis Pitta, the Ravens' receptions leader in 2016. Michael Campanaro also was hurt during that organized team activity, but is expected to practice this week.

Throw in the loss of tight end Darren Waller to a season-long drug suspension and it's amazing how upbeat everyone was around the Under Armour Performance Center on the eve of the new preseason Wednesday.

Clearly, the Ravens are excited about the defense Ozzie Newsome and his front office upgraded with the acquisitions of veteran safety Tony Jefferson and cornerback Brandon Carr before addressing last year's pass rush in the upper rounds of the draft.

Defensive lineman Brandon Williams is so excited that he said on a recent radio show that this year's defense is striving to replicate the legendary 2000 group that led the Ravens to their first Super Bowl.

That's probably a stretch, but people are throwing around words like "historic" to describe the potential of this defense and, well, it might have to be.

"Like I've said before, I think our defense is going to be something really special this year," Williams said. "Just the leadership, you've got [Eric] Weddle, we've got Webby (Lardarius Webb), we've got [Terrell] Suggs, TJ (Jefferson), myself. Everybody else, individually, I feel like we've got a great group — a very cohesive unit — and I think we're going to go out there and just be a family and play Ravens football."

The Ravens have been diminished by injuries on both sides of the ball. The Dixon news was not a great surprise, but it was another blow to an offense that was building quality depth with the signing of veteran receiver Jeremy Maclin and versatile running back Danny Woodhead. The losses on defense were also damaging, but the front office focused entirely on the defense in the early rounds of the draft.

"The show must go on," Williams said. "We've got guys in the front office that do a great job. Ozzie, Coach Harbs and everybody else does a great job of plugging guys who can come in and ball out for us. So we're confident. In Ozzie we trust. We're going to come out on the field and do what we have to do, regardless."

Wide receiver Mike Wallace echoed that confidence in the Ravens braintrust to make the necessary moves to offset the losses and expressed disappointment that Dixon will not get a chance — at least this season — to follow up on the promise he showed as a rookie.

"I was really looking forward to his second season, but he's going to come back and be a better person, a better player after going through something like this," Wallace said. "It's tough. It's a tough loss. But I know Ozzie and the coaches are going to do what they need to do to put us in position to get where we need to get. I'm confident in anybody they put on the field, because every time we step out there we're going to give it our all and be ready to go."

The Ravens still have a move or two to make, but the scary part of all this is that they haven't stepped onto the field for their first full workout of a long preseason and they can't really afford to lose anybody else.

peter.schmuck@baltsun.com

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Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

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