Check out yesterday’s Extremely Premature Baltimore Ravens 2009 Preview


Say what you want about quarterback Joe Flacco getting tons of help from a dominant defense and a great run game, Joe flat out made plays. Flacco has an incredibly strong arm, exhibited great poise, and isn’t fast, but shockingly mobile.

The Ravens have some good backups, with Troy Smith, a former Heisman Winner and a very athletic guy, and John Beck, who reunites with Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

Image Courtesy of the Baltimore Sun

Smith is a truly sad story. After Kyle Boller faded off during the preseason, it looked as if it was Troy’s job to lose. However, he got sick, lost tons of weight, and didn’t return until Week Eight, only to see Flacco manning the quarterback position.

Now, his spot as a backup is in jeopardy. Beck, 27, is a Brigham Young native who dominated throughout his college career, but it hasn’t yet translate to the NFL. While he may get his shot elsewhere, his best chances are as a backup. Beck has a legitimate shot to beat Troy Smith for the backup job. Talk about the difference of a year.

As previously stated, the Baltimore Ravens had a powerful run game, and some claim the strong ground attack opened up the passing success Flacco had. The Ravens received most of their help on the ground from fullback Le’Ron McClain, who ran the ball 232 times for 902 yards and scored ten touchdowns.

At fullback, those numbers are almost Madden-like. Not only does McClain do a great job in the backfield, the Ravens also have Willis McGahee and Ray Rice. McGahee had a strong season in 2007, running 294 times for 1,207 yards and scoring seven touchdowns.

Unfortunately, the Ravens went 5-11 and finished the season losing nine of 10. In 2008, the Ravens turned their season around, but McGahee battled injuries all year long and run for just 671 yards.

If McGahee can stay healthy, he’s one of the most effective running backs in the league, and during the last two games of the season and throughout the playoffs, he exhibited that.

Ray Rice did a phenomenal job last year as a third-down back. He missed some action after suffering an injury in a 24-10 win over the Washington Redskins. With McGahee talking his way out of Baltimore, Rice could project as a No. 1 back in the future, and the one time he did start, he ran for 154 yards on 21 carries.

Going into the offseason, many Ravens fans wanted that big play wide receiver to help out Joe Flacco. However, the Ravens opted not to do so in the draft or via free agency, and decided to add depth to the offensive line.

The Ravens have an incredibly consistent wide receiver in Mason, who gained 1,037 yards last season and was like a security blanket for the rookie Flacco. As the year progressed, Flacco started utilizing his other targets more, such as Mark Clayton, who had amazing showings against the Bengals and Jaguars.

Demetrius Williams returns healthy, and can be one of the most reliable No. 3 receivers in the NFL—when healthy. The Ravens don’t have a clear cut No. 4 receiver and have some candidates in Marcus Smith, Ernie Wheelwright, Yamon Figurs, and undrafted free agent signee Eron Riley.

The Ravens added depth to the tight end position over the offseason, signing free agent L.J. Smith to a one year, $1.5M deal and drafting East Carolina alum Davon Drew in the fifth round with the 141st overall pick.

The Ravens now have four guys who can potentially start at tight end—Todd Heap, L.J. Smith, a now healthy Quinn Sypniewski, and Drew.

With Oher drafted, Heap won’t be blocking as much, and we can see the Todd Heap of old, the one who is easily a Pro Bowler and can gain anywhere from 600-800 yards. With Cam Cameron at the helm at offensive coordinator, it’s quite possible.

We all know what Cameron turned Antonio Gates into. Smith will play a very minimal impact this season. He has an uncanny ability to consistently lead the league in dropped passes, missed blocks, and injuries.

Sypniewski, on the other hand, comes back from an injury that forced him to miss all of 2008. At 27, he’s got a bright future ahead of him. In 2007, he had a respectable year, catching 34 passes for 246 yards and scoring one touchdown. I call it respectable with Kyle Boller throwing to him.

At 6’6”, 270, he’s a physical specimen and could be the Ravens’ future tight end. Davon Drew is the leading candidate to be the Ravens future at the position. He doesn’t have the size or long arms Sypniewski has, but is productive (43 catches, 695 yards, 3 TD as a senior) and with assistance from Cameron, can develop into a good tight end.

After Jonathan Ogden retired in the 2007 offseason, the Ravens offensive line would look weird. It does look weird—it’s one of the best offensive lines in football, something it never has been.

The Ravens have great youth on the line. Jared Gaither, 23, is one of the bright left tackles in all of football, and despite the team drafting Oher, the Ravens have opened contract extension negotiations with Gaither and strongly detest letting him go.

In the 2007 Draft, the Ravens addressed offensive line immediately, adding former Auburn left guard Ben Grubbs. Grubbs has been great with the Ravens in his first two seasons, and didn’t miss a start last year. While the Ravens have great youth on the line, the center position is where they decided to add a veteran.

Literally one hour after re-signing Ray Lewis, it was announced that six time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk had signed a three year, $12M contract with the Ravens. Birk, 32, is in the latter stage of his career, but can definitely still play and is among the more elite centers in all of the NFL.

On the right side, the Ravens will have youth. Marshal Yanda, 24, was drafted in the third round of the 2007 Draft by the Ravens and despite rarely being talked about, is an asset on the team. He is the future of the Ravens at right guard, and has the versatility to play center

Right tackle is a very interesting situation.

Last year, the team brought in Willie Anderson as a last second free agent signee. The signing worked out perfectly, as Anderson succeeded on the right side throughout the year. However, Anderson is 34 years old, and it is very seldom offensive lineman last that long. The Ravens decided to add some youth, bringing in Oher, who I project to start.