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News » Ravens hope for the best in 'transition' year

Ravens hope for the best in 'transition' year

Ravens hope for the best in 'transition' year
BALTIMORE (AP) - Rebuilding is such a harsh word, so Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has opted to use a different term to describe a team that has undergone an extensive overhaul following an utterly disappointing 5-11 season.

"I'm having a tough time saying it, but this could be a year of transition," Newsome conceded. "Still, given the way this league is and because there are so many unknowns, if we stay healthy we're going to contend."

That's a big "if" for a team with a very crowded training room this summer. Running back Willis McGahee, tight end Todd Heap, safety Ed Reed, cornerback Chris McAlister, and defensive tackles Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata didn't practice in pads for most of training camp.

Even if the Ravens were operating at full strength, there's no guarantee they would be good enough to contend in the AFC North. Much has changed since the end of last season, beginning with the dismissal of head coach Brian Billick after a nine-year run.

His replacement, John Harbaugh, has never been an offensive or defensive coordinator with an NFL team. After coaching special teams and the secondary for 10 years with the Philadelphia Eagles, Harbaugh is taking a huge step up.

"Some people say the Ravens took a chance hiring this guy, and maybe they did," Harbaugh said. "But my goal, along with the rest of the coaches and players, is to prove (owner) Steve Bisciotti and Ozzie Newsome right."

The Ravens may have a new coach, but the team appears destined to again depend on an old formula to win: defense. Harbaugh was fortunate enough to retain defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who returns for a 10th season in Baltimore.

Ryan will be in charge of a unit that is beginning to show its age. McAlister and fellow cornerback Samari Rolle were plagued by injuries last year, and the Ravens were without defensive end Trevor Pryce for more than two-thirds of the season.

Ray Lewis remains the focal point of the defense, but he hasn't played 16 games in a season since 2003.

No wonder Newsome was so adamant in his assertion that the Ravens must avoid injuries to win. The players feel the same way.

"You have to go into the season optimistic. Hopefully we can get into this thing healthy and make a run," linebacker Bart Scott said.

Said Lewis: "You don't know what you got until the season starts. We have a great core of guys, great chemistry, guys working their butts off. We had a great training camp, so now here we go. We'll get some guys back who have been injured, then we'll see what we have."

Here's what the Ravens DON'T have:

-A top-of-the line quarterback.

-A decent replacement for retired Pro Bowl left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

-Depth at running back behind the fragile McGahee.

-A contingency plan if Reed, McAlister and Rolle aren't healthy enough to play.

One of Harbaugh's first moves was to make the quarterback job an open competition between Kyle Boller, Troy Smith and top draft pick Joe Flacco. As the season drew closer to beginning, the only certainty was that Flacco is indeed, as Newsome labeled him on draft day, Baltimore's "quarterback of the future."

The big problem now is that neither Boller or Smith appear to be worthy of being the team's quarterback of the present. Smith appears to have the edge, not because he can move the team better, but because he is less prone to committing costly turnovers.

Part of the problem is that all three quarterbacks have been forced to operate behind a depleted offensive line. Second-year pro Jared Gaither was supposed to step in for Ogden, but an ankle injury has kept him sidelined since late July. Right tackle Adam Terry has been slowed by a similar injury.

"We still have miles to go, and we have to put the pieces together," said rookie running back Ray Rice, whose solid performance during the preseason has made the absence of McGahee (knee) easier to tolerate.

Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron will attempt to make the best of a difficult situation. The San Diego Chargers scored an NFL-high 492 points under Cameron in 2006, but as head coach of the Miami Dolphins last year his offense ranked 28th in the 32-team league.

Miami's lone win last season came against the Ravens, who could muster only one touchdown in an overtime defeat.

"It's a new year. That's over. That's behind you," Pryce said. "What we have to do now is come together and figure out our identity. Actually, I know what our identity is: smashmouth football. But there are other things we're trying to bring into the identity of this team. It's going to take us a while, but we'll get there."

After the Ravens were limited to one offensive touchdown in a preseason loss to Minnesota, Harbaugh told his players to emerge from the locker room with "broad shoulders." He may have to prepare several similar speeches for the regular season.

"Hopefully we can stand up and be counted. That's all you can ask for," Pryce said. "It would be premature of us, and immature of us, to talk about championships and those type of things right now. We're still feeling out the new process. There are a lot of things that have to go right, but I can say this: I like the path we're on."

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: August 21, 2008

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P.J. Daniels Name: P.J. Daniels
Position: RB
Age: 25
Experience: 2 years
College: Georgia Tech
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