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Five biggest questions for the Baltimore Ravens heading into the offseason

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Five biggest questions for the Baltimore Ravens heading into the offseason

The Ravens season couldn't have ended much worse than it did. 

The team was in control of their own destiny and with 44 seconds left, it all slipped away.

Now that we've had time to decompress from the heartbreaking loss, it's time to look towards change.

What are the five biggest questions the Ravens need to answer during the offseason?


1. Who will fill the defensive coordinator role?

Dean Pees — the Ravens' defensive coordinator for the past eight seasons — announced last week he would be retiring, leaving a gaping hole to fill the position as the leader of what's been credited as one of the most dominate defenses in the league over the past decade.

At his end of the year press conference, head coach John Harbaugh said the team will be looking to hire someone who can build on the system they've already built. 

"Definitely continuity, Harbaugh said. I’m a believer in this system. This system has been something that’s been developed for a long period of time, and we have worked really hard every single year to make it better. We’ve evolved it and grown it, and I think you see the results."

Conveniently enough, former defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano is looking for a job after being fired as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts after six seasons on 'Black Monday.'

"When I’m not going to bring somebody in from the outside and flip the whole system around, do something completely different. We’re going to build on everything we’ve done. So, it’ll be somebody who’s been involved in this system before, for sure, somebody either inside or somebody who’s outside who has been in this system before. You can probably figure out who those people are; you guys have written some stuff about that."

Harbaugh hired Pagano back in 2008 as a secondary coach before being elevated to the defensive coordinator role in 2011. While he was only in the position for one year, the defense finished third in the NFL for yards allowed per game, second in rushing yards allowed, fourth in passing yards allowed and third in points allowed. It has been reported that the organization has been in contact with Pagano.

Another viable option is linebackers coach Don Martindale, who already has recieved high praise from C.J. Mosely, Terrell Suggs and Eric Weddle. 


2. Can they find their next QB?

While Joe Flacco's numbers improved over the second half of the season, it's clear the 32-year old is descending on the backside of his career, and now is the time to find his successor.

With the 16th pick in the 2018 NFL draft, top QB prospects like Josh Rosen and Sam Darnold will be off the board, leaving the opportunity for the Ravens to scoop them up gone.

But that doesn't mean a second round pick who they can mold under the guidance of Flacco wouldn't work. Harbaugh maintains Flacco is their QB1, but said finding their next offensive leader is a priority for the team during the offseason.

"It is something that we will talking about for sure. Every position, certain positions are going to be more important than others, but when you have a veteran quarterback at this stage, that is the time you are always looking for a young backup. I do not think that jeopardizes Joe at all. He is our guy, and I am excited about our chances next year having a great season, and Joe is too. If we draft a quarterback, if it turns out to be the thing we do, it is only going to make our team stronger.”

Did any of you know who Joe Flacco was prior to him being drafted? Probably not. 

3. Can they flip the scirpt on their recent draft busts and get Flacco some weapons?

"In Ozzie we trust" is a commonly used phrase in Baltimore when April rolls around and it's time for the NFL Draft.

However, in recent years, the Ravens' draft picks haven't lived up to the hype. Fans' blood start to boil every time 2015 first-round pick Breshad Perriman drops a pass. Perriman, who missed his rookie season after tearing his PCL on the first day of training camp, hasn't made an impact since. 

Fast forward to the 2017 season, Perriman was a healthy scratch for four games solely to get him to refocus. The WR is at the top of the list of draft picks gone bad and can be directly related to the Ravens being ranked 29th in passing yards. Harbaugh acknowledged the teams dire need in that area.

 “Absolutely. We want to get playmakers. That is something that we need. I do not think it is any secret that we need to add playmakers to the mix, and we have playmakers."

During the offseason the team added RB Danny Woodhead and WR Jeremey Maclin who didn't make that much of an impact with 73 receptions for 640 yards combined. And as far as the draft goes, they've only drafted a offensive weapon in the first three rounds three times since the 2013 draft, zero times in 2017.

"That’s an area that we have to look at really hard. We have to build that whole area up. You have free agents, you have injuries, we have a couple young guys in there, at different situations with those guys. You guys can all can look at the situation and say, ‘Hey, here’s what it is.’ I see the same thing everybody sees. We have to build that thing up to where it’s great. I have no problem with the guys themselves. I think the guys themselves competed like crazy and did everything they could to be as good as they can be. The passing game wasn’t where it needed to be. We all know that. Some of that is the fact that we didn’t get a chance in training camp to really develop it."


4. Can the Ravens get fans back in the stands and excited about the future?

The purple seats at M&T Bank Stadium were visibly neglected during the 2017 season, something the Ravens organization and fans aren't used to.

While opinions may differ, there have been several factors as to why this is so. Hearing opinions from Ravens fans of all generations, the team kneeling during the National Anthem in London had its effect, something team President Dick Cass addressed in a letter to PSL owners. 

In addition to that, the Ravens have been a mediocre team over the past three seasons going 5-11 in 2015, 8-8 in 2016 and 9-7 in 2017. They haven't made the playoffs since 2014 and with no significant coaching changes or big name player additions, fans aren't in a rush to drop some cash to attend a game.

John Harbaugh has recognized that himself and is ready to earn the trust of Ravens fans back.

"I want to earn the right to have [the fans] cheering and have them going crazy. I love our fans. Our fans are great. Those fans, in the last few games in our stadium, they were loud, and they were into it. To me, that’s what I care about. I think they have great passion. I think they love football. I think they want to see us be really good. I think they’re tough people. That’s what I love about Baltimore and their fans. Let’s get it going again! Let’s make it exciting. We’ll do that by playing great football."

5. Which UFA does the team bring back?

The Ravens have 12 unrestricted free agents in 2018 and with space needed for a successful draft pick, a lot of these guys will have to go.

Benjamin Watson, Mike Wallace and Michael Campanaro are all UFA.

Watson, a 14-year veteran, has said he is considering retirement. Wallace, in his second season with the team, had 52 receptions for 748 yards and a 56.6% catch percentage. 

WR Campanaro, who also doubles as a punt returner, only saw game action in eight games for 19 receptions and 173 yards. 

Other important names include center Ryan Jensen, who got the starting role after John Urschel announced his retirement on the first day of training camp and RB Terrance West who only played in five games after dealing with a calf injury all season.

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

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Ravens experimenting with getting Joe Flacco and Lamar Jackson on field at same time

Since drafting Lamar Jackson, the Ravens have made it clear that Joe Flacco is their starter. That doesn't mean they're not experimenting with having them both on the field at the same time, however. 

During this week's minicamp, the team has been lining Jackson up at multiple positions. 

"Gosh, I sure like him out there helping us," coach John Harbaugh said of Jackson during Tuesday's minicamp, via ESPN.com.

"If you put two quarterbacks on the field at once, what options does it create for our offense? That's what we're trying to figure out."

While at Louisville, Jackson rushed for 4,132 yards and 50 touchdowns in three seasons. That's more rushing yards than No. 2 overall pick Saquon Barkley. That unique skill set could be the creative options the Ravens are looking for. 

While at the NFL Combine, however, Jackson refused to workout at any other position than QB. 

"I have a lot of fun seeing what they come up with and what they're going to come up with next," Jackson said. "We'll see where it goes. You have to use your good players."

The Ravens are already viewing Jackson as one of those 'good players.' 

"Once he gets out of the pocket, it's like watching a young Michael Vick," LB C.J. Mosley said after minicamp practice. "It's amazing to watch. When you're defending him, you just have to act like you're tagging off -- you don't want to be on the highlight reel."

Harbaugh has alluded to the fact that the rookie will be active on game days, just exactly how they get the most out of him is what's in play.

"There's a lot of considerations that go into that," Harbaugh said of using two QBs at the once. "Everybody has an opinion. I've read a few. You want to find a way to get the most out of all your guys."

While Flacco isn't the fasted QB in the league, he has shown glimpses of running ability in the past. Figuring out how to utilize Flacco when Jackson is under center is where things will get interesting.

Interesting - as long as it works - is what Ravens fans have been searching for over the last several seasons. 

"Joe has to be able to do other things if [Jackson is] throwing the ball," Harbaugh said. "It gets the creative juices flowing for our offensive coaches, and they've worked hard on that."


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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

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Ravens D-coordinator Don Martindale puts personal stamp on unit

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- There are no dreary work days for Don Martindale, who has overwhelmingly embraced his new role as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens.

After serving for five seasons as the team's linebackers coach, Martindale was promoted to coordinator in January after Dean Pees left the post.

Enthusiastic doesn't even begin to describe Martindale's attitude about being in charge of the defense.

"Ever since we've made this transition, it's been a joy to just come through those gates every day. I love it," Martindale said after Wednesday's mandatory minicamp practice.

This isn't the first time Martindale has been put in charge of molding a defense. In 2010, he watched over a unit in Denver that was the worst in the NFL in both yards and points allowed per game.

Given a second chance, the 55-year-old Martindale is putting together a defense that will rely heavily on the instinct of several of its most proven players, most notably safety Eric Weddle and linebackers Terrell Suggs and C.J. Mosley.

"He's just putting his personal fix on our defense and expanding it, giving the guys confidence to play fast," Weddle said. "The idea is to do what's best for the defense, not what's best the individual."

Martindale called Mosley "the quarterback" of a fluid unit that can make a snap-change from drop-back coverage to an all-out blitz. In that regard, Mosley believes this defense is superior to the one that in 2017 yielded 18.9 points per game, sixth-best in the NFL.

"The way we're able to use our core guys, put them in different spots and do some of the same things just from different positions, it's more creative, I would say, than where we were last year," Mosley said.

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh promoted Martindale rather than go outside the organization because he wanted to extend his vision of a defense that has evolved since his arrival in 2008.

"All we're doing is forwarding John's plan," Martindale said. "We're remodeling the package. It's still Ravens football, it's still Ravens defense, but we've streamlined it. It's the elegant simplicity. Guys are playing really fast."

Asked for his take on Martindale's defense, Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg replied, "They're fast and they're furious."

Sure, things might be different once the pads go on at training camp, but at this point, Martindale's boss likes what he sees.

"We're doing a lot of neat things on defense, things that are really good," Harbaugh said. "More than ever, we're putting it on our players to make decisions in real time."

Martindale has a new title, but old habits die hard.

"For the most part, it's been the same," Mosley said. "He always comes in and says, `I have to lead the linebacker room,' and sits down and gets to talking like he's back at linebacker coach."

Told of Mosley's disclosure, Martindale smiled and said, "I've been trying to stay out of there, but you can't help but go in. That's home. I have a good time in the secondary room as well."

And just about everywhere else.

"Where we're going with this thing is really exciting to me," Martindale said, "and I know it's exciting to the players."

In other training camp news, cornerback Jimmy Smith was a surprise participant at practice, going through a light regimen of individual drills just six months after tearing his left Achilles tendon.

"I don't know if Jimmy's like half Wolverine, but he's healed up in half the time of regular human beings," Weddle said, referring to the amazing recuperative powers of the Marvel super hero.