6:47 PM EDT, June 13, 2013
It's not unusual for the defense to be ahead of the offense at this point, but it appears the Ravens have a chance to be special again.
In the three-day minicamp that ended Thursday, the Ravens were impressive on defense and completely dominated the offense. That's not anything new in Baltimore, but the Ravens were just average last season.
And after they lost six starters including two Hall of Fame candidates in linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, the Ravens were expected to be in a rebuilding mode this season. But that won't be the case.
The Ravens are huge and fast, a deadly combination. If they can stay healthy, they will be tough to run against, with new defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears teaming with starters Haloti Ngata and Arthur Jones. And they have this new giant in rookie tackle Brandon Williams.
The Ravens also have two capable pass rushers in outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and on Thursday defensive coordinator Dean Peas flip-flopped them to give the offense a different look.
Because of the new faces, it might take a couple of games for the Ravens to gel, but if they do, they will once again have one of the best defenses in the NFL.
"I'm very pleased with the effort, what we accomplished. I think we're in a good place as a football team," head coach John Harbaugh said. "We'll find out when the pads come on."
New defensive assistant coach Steve Spagnuolo likes what he sees.
"I don't make predictions like that, but I will say this, and maybe it was when the guys put the real football pants on the other day. … This is as good-looking [a] football team that I've ever seen," Spagnuolo said. "I'm talking about physically and stout. Defensively — I think Corey [Graham] might have talked about it just a little while ago — but I'm a firm believer — both sides of the football — that you win upfront. I'm not as familiar with our offensive guys right now, but defensively, wow. I had little visions of the Giants' front that I happened to be privileged to be working with. They are good all the way around."
Can Flacco do it again?
Another major piece of this team coming together will be the consistency of quarterback Joe Flacco.
He had a great postseason to lead the Ravens to the championship, and few are asking questions about Flacco anymore.
But here's the $100 million question: Can he do it again?
Flacco definitely earned the new contract, but he has been inconsistent throughout his career. Were the postseason performances just a hot streak or can Flacco stay at the top of his game?
Publicly, the Ravens will endorse Flacco, but privately they aren't sure either.
In the recent minicamps, Flacco has performed well, throwing a lot of passes into tight pockets without hesitation.
"This was his best offseason, clearly," Harbaugh said. "He has done a great job of developing young guys and he has looked good. By far, his best offseason of understanding what we're doing."
Flacco said: "It's going well. I think we got a couple of new guys out there and I think it's the best I've seen us look in terms of guys knowing where to line up, where they are going and being able to process all of that very quickly."
Castillo boosting the O-line
The Ravens had hired Juan Castillo as the run game coordinator, but he is basically handling the offensive line. If you watch practice, he was a great pick-up by Harbaugh.
He has an amazing amount of energy and is extremely technical. He is the best offensive line coach the Ravens have had since Kirk Ferentz came to Baltimore with the team from Cleveland for the 1996 season.
Castillo stays on everyone, including giant left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie has worked hard during the offseason, and he might have the best season of his 12-year career working under Castillo.
"Juan [Castillo] is a pretty good coach," McKinnie said. "He focuses on our technique, and that's something that I kind of get away from sometimes. So right now is a great time for us to work on our technique and me in pass protection — sitting straight back. So Juan's been a great help."
Suggs and the Patriots
Terrell Suggs is trying to create a new image for himself as he becomes the unquestioned leader of the defense, but please keep taking those shots at the Patriots.
The NFL loves to put the Patriots, head coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady on a pedestal and it is amusing when Suggs calls out Brady and talks about how other players in the league hate the Patriots.
It's the truth. Boston and New York teams are the same. They have smugness about them and they need to be called out from time to time.
New guys looking good
You usually can't talk about the success of a draft class until three or four years afterward, but the Ravens 2013 class seems to shaping up well. Safety Matt Elam, the first-round pick, has made numerous plays in practice and is constantly around the ball. Williams, a third-round pick out of Missouri Southern State, is tough to move inside and can also get penetration as a pass rusher.
Second-round pick Arthur Brown, an inside linebacker, has great speed and surprising strength. He has already made a fan out of running back Ray Rice, and fullback Kyle Juszczyk might surprise some people as a lead blocker when training camp opens.
Three of the four could have immediate impact. That's pretty impressive.
The versatile Caldwell
Most offensive coordinators have a script of 10 to 15 plays to open a game, but Jim Caldwell has about five or six scripts. When certain plays aren't working, he quickly goes and moves on to another script to help his team find a rhythm.
That's one of the major reasons why he is one of the best play callers in the NFL.
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