Team Needs: Baltimore Ravens

A strong defense, an inconsistent offense, a lack of imagination and questionable personnel decisions best describes the 2004 Baltimore Ravens.

Offensively, the Ravens were a rudderless ship at sea. The direction was questionable and the on-field personnel, most notably at the skill positions, lacked firepower and consistency. When the team's leading receiver (Kevin Johnson) latches onto a mere 35 receptions, you know something is wrong.

A long overdue offensive makeover is underway. Jim Fassel replaced Matt Cavanaugh as the offensive coordinator and Rick Neuheisel is the new quarterbacks coach in charge of raising Kyle Boller's game.

With Fassel calling the plays, expect the Ravens to become a more balanced team in 2005 and to use Boller's strengths, which are the short-to-intermediate throws. Though he sports a big arm, Boller has not shown the ability to be a vertical-passing quarterback, but a lack of speed and talent around him surely hasn't helped.

Protecting Boller and opening holes for the running game has been an ongoing problem. Casey Rabach's signing with Washington creates a void in an already questionable and depth-deficient offensive line.

The defense carried the team to the brink of the playoffs as Ray Lewis once again headed a stellar cast. But Lewis wasn't his usual constant, dominant force. A change to a 4-3 defense should make him more of a consistent, playmaking, disruptive presence.

LOOKING AHEAD

This organization has been strong in player evaluation and personnel acquisition, but there are holes in the roster.

The Ravens lost linebacker Ed Hartwell and expect to lose defensive end Marquis Douglas in free agency. With the switch to a 4-3 defense, Douglas' departure won't be an issue since Terrell Suggs will replace him. However, depth at defensive tackle could be an issue, and a linebacking corps without Hartwell – and with an aging Lewis – could begin to show signs of slippage.

Samari Rolle is a solid acquisition and an upgrade at cornerback over Gary Baxter, who signed with the division rival Browns. Rolle and Chris McAlister could be the best cornerback duo in the league. Still, there's concern over depth in the defensive secondary, with safety being the position most in need of an upgrade.

Offensively, wide receiver Derrick Mason gives the Ravens an explosive, playmaker on the outside and a go-to guy for Boller, who'll also have tight end Todd Heap coming back from a season of ankle problems. Running back Jamal Lewis should be physically and mentally healthy as well after enduring a difficult 2004 season on and off the field. He has promised to come back in a big way in 2005.

SALARY CAP STATUS

The Ravens have approximately $5 million under the league-mandated 2005 salary cap.

TEAM NEEDS

Linebacker – Outside linebacker Suggs rotates over to defensive end in the new 4-3 defense. Ray Lewis will man the middle with either Peter Boulware or Adalius Thomas on the strong side, but the Ravens do not have a viable option on the weak side. The team is exploring free agency to fill the void.

Defensive back – McAlister and the recently acquired Rolle are top-quality cornerbacks, but there's a void of talent and depth behind them. An aging Deion Sanders and a physically questionable Dale Carter could return, but this team needs to address its issues in the secondary.

Wide receiver – Mason was a huge acquisition for Baltimore's young receiving corps. He provides experience, speed and quickness to a position that lacked all three qualities. Second-year receiver Clarence Moore showed glimpses of promise last season, but quality and depth remain a problem.

FREE AGENCY AND OFFSEASON

KEY ACQUISITIONS: CB Samari Rolle (Titans), WR Derrick Mason (Titans), OG Keydrick Vincent (Steelers).

PLAYERS RE-SIGNED: TE Darnell Dinkins, LS Joe Maese, RB Chester Taylor (Browns offer sheet matched), P Dave Zastudil, DT Matt Zielinski.

KEY DEPARTURES: CB Gary Baxter (Browns), DB Corey Fuller (released), LB Edgerton Hartwell (Falcons), WR Kevin Johnson (released), FB Harold Morrow (released), C Casey Rabach (Redskins), WR Travis Taylor (Vikings).

FRANCHISE PLAYER: None.

TRANSITION PLAYER: None.

UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: RG Bennie Anderson, OT Ethan Brooks, DE Marques Douglas, K Wade Richey, CB Deion Sanders, LB T.J. Slaughter, QB Kordell Stewart, CB Ray Walls, RB Jamel White.

RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS: FS Will Demps (tendered at $1.43M with first-round pick as compensation), WR Randy Hymes (tendered at $656,000 with no compensation), TE Terry Jones (tendered at $656,000 with fifth-round pick as compensation), NT Maake Kemoeatu (tendered at $1.43M with first-round pick as compensation), LB Bart Scott (tendered at $656,000 with no compensation), SS Chad Williams (tendered at $656,000 with sixth-round pick as compensation).


Scout NFL Network Top Stories