8:32 PM EDT, May 6, 2013
The Ravens' Most Valuable Player of the 2013 season could be Mark Smith.
Smith is the team's head athletic trainer and responsible for trying to get the injured players back on the field as soon as possible, but also at 100 percent.
Despite some great additions this offseason, like linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears and outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, who are expected to upgrade the defense, there are still questions about the team's top returning players coming back from major injuries last season.
Starting cornerback Lardarius Webb, who was nearing Pro Bowl status last season, tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in Week 6 against the Cowboys. He has had two major knee surgeries in the past four years. It will be interesting to see if he has lost a step from a year ago.
The addition of Dumervil could give the Ravens two of the best pass rushers in the league with Dumervil teaming with Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, but Suggs struggled with Achilles and biceps injuries last season. He has to show he can play at that high level again.
The Ravens also are waiting and seeing on both inside linebacker Jameel McClain (spinal contusion) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (back and leg injuries).
McClain is more of a concern because he is the only returning starter at inside linebacker. Rookie Arthur Brown, taken in the second round out of Kansas State, could be a starter inside and the Ravens also signed Oakland's former troubled linebacker Rolando McClain, but there are still too many questions surrounding both to have great confidence.
On paper, the Ravens certainly have improved their defense. There is anticipation around town that this defense could become like the defense of old when the Ravens were one of the most dominating groups in the NFL.
But, let's have a reality check. The 2013 season hasn't even started yet and a lot of the Ravens' success will depend on the health of several returning players.
And of course, the work of Mark Smith.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh has hired two good assistants in recent months in Juan Castillo and Steve Spagnuolo.
Castillo will work with the offense and Spagnuolo with the defense. Both are well-respected and worked with Harbaugh when he was an assistant in Philadelphia, but a word of caution might be needed here.
Sometimes, the good-old-boy network doesn't work and it causes the other assistants to look over their shoulders. It didn't work for former Ravens coach Brian Billick when he named Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel as offensive coordinators.
The Ravens appeared to already have a good mix on their staff. We'll see how the new hirings work out, and maybe Spagnuolo is the heir apparent to current defensive coordinator Dean Pees.
Ravens need veteran WR
The Ravens have a solid list of candidates to work from in finding a No. 2 receiver opposite Torrey Smith, but the preference here is to find one who is already established, at least a veteran who can push the others in training camp.
The Ravens like some of their younger guys, like David Reed, Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson and LaQuan Williams, but most seem at least a year away except for Reed, who has been injury-prone.
The Ravens still have Jacoby Jones on the roster as a No. 2, but it would be a risk putting him out there often in base offense when he is such a weapon as a punt and kickoff returner.
The Ravens probably won't bring in another receiver until after they go through several camps to see how the youngsters are progressing.
Watch out for Arthur Jones
One of the top players to keep an eye on this season is fourth-year defensive end Arthur Jones, who has 67 career tackles and 4.5 sacks.
He had a couple of good games during the 2012 regular season, and then became more consistent late in the year and in the playoffs.
He was expected at first to be a run-stopper but eventually became a pass-rushing threat. It will be interesting to see how he responds to competition with the additions of Canty and Spears.
Smart move, A. Brown
Arthur Brown may be a rookie, but he sure made a veteran move by saying, "There's no replacing Ray Lewis."
Ever since the Ravens drafted Brown there have been the constant comparisons to Lewis, because they were both considered small and fast coming out of college.
But the comparisons need to end there: They were putting unfair pressure on Brown. A Ray Lewis comes along once in every lifetime, not every 17 years.
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