OWINGS MILLS -- 1. Will new quarterback Steve McNair breathe life into a
Ravens passing game that has been dormant for several years?
Now that McNair has supplanted an erratic Kyle Boller, the Ravens are banking on reaching a rarely-achieved goal in Baltimore: creating a balanced offense led by a quarterback capable of winning the game, not merely managing it. With weapons like Derrick Mason, Todd Heap and Mark Clayton at McNair's disposal, one nagging question remains: How much gas and health does the oft-injured former Co-Most Valuable Player have left in his tank?
2. Will running back Jamal Lewis regain his old NFL Offensive Player of the Year form one disappointing year removed from a career-low output marked by unhappiness over his contract and preceded by a federal prison sentence and ankle surgery?
Lewis is essentially playing this season under a one-year, $6 million contract after discovering the free agent waters were chilly. Traditionally, he's at his best when he has something to prove and is more than a year removed from a major injury. The Ravens acquired veteran Mike Anderson as an insurance policy and to work in tandem with Lewis to try to rekindle a once-intimidating running game.
3. Will coach Brian Billick run a tougher, more discipline-oriented training camp regimen after years of criticism of his player-friendly approach?
Billick was retained by owner Steve Bisciotti only after accepting a mandate to change his public and private management style. Part of that agreement is likely to include greater freedom and more autonomy for offensive coordinator Jim Fassel. Meanwhile, Billick didn't hesitate to punish the players by making them run windsprints during minicamp when practice degenerated into a series of brawls. Perhaps Billick is sincere about changing and taking control of the squad.
4. Will former All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis temper his trademark intensity and desire for a new contract, especially in light of protégé safety Ed Reed's landmark $40 million contract, to fit in with the team concept?
During the offseason, Lewis loudly voiced his displeasure about the team's defensive scheme and personnel and gave a much-debated ‘no comment' regarding Billick. He denied requesting a trade even though Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome have acknowledged that Lewis did indeed want out. Lewis seems somewhat more content now that McNair is the quarterback and the team drafted massive Oregon defensive tackle in the first round. Plus, there's the question of Lewis' health and declining production as he's coming off hamstring surgery and hasn't finished two of the past four seasons.
5. Who will win several heated training camp competitions?
It's a rare situation in Westminster with several battles to be contested for starting jobs, including: center (Mike Flynn vs. Jason Brown); right guard (Keydrick Vincent vs. rookie Chris Chester); third receiver (Devard Darling vs. Clarence Moore and rookie Demetrius Williams); punter (Leo Araguz vs. Sam Koch) and free safety (rookie Dawan Landry vs. Gerome Sapp). The culture of a guaranteed job appears to be a relic of the past.
Aaron Wilson writes for Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
If you are reading this article via a news portal, you can find the
original on RavensInsider.Com