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Offensive improvement brings smiles to Ravens' faces
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco spent much of the recent OTAs confidently zipping passes downfield to receivers that had gotten behind the secondary.
The finely-tuned offense underscored how much that unit improved this offseason.
Baltimore signed receiver Jeremy Maclin one day prior to the mandatory minicamp, giving Flacco another big-time playmaker. With Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman in the fold, the Ravens now have one of the most talented groups of receivers in the league.
Danny Woodhead, who was signed as a free agent in March, was a force throughout the spring practices and should boost the team's struggling running game. Tight end Benjamin Watson also was back on the field after missing all of last season with a torn Achilles.
The Ravens are still in the market for a center and right tackle heading into training camp after losing starters at those positions. However, owner Steve Bisciotti is confident general manager Ozzie Newsome will find a way to fill the void.
"We all take our cue from Ozzie and have learned over the years that if you're patient, things like Elvis Dumervil will fall to you and Jeremy Maclin will fall to you," Bisciotti said in a conference call with Permanent Seat License holders this week. "We've got time, we've got some money and we're quite sure some offensive line help is going to shake out. If something comes up on the free-agent market that we think is better than what we have, we still have money, we still have draft picks to trade, we still have some deep positions that we could trade."
The Ravens finished 17th in total offense last season. Many of the problems were with the running game, which was ranked 28th with 91.4 yards per game. Flacco is confident the Ravens will be much improved for the season opener Sept. 10 in Cincinnati.
"If you've been out here, you can definitely see that guys are playing well," Flacco said. "They're playing really fast, playing confident, and that's all you can ask for. When we can come out here and do it and rep it each day with the guys that are going to be out here playing, you're going to do nothing but get better and better."
Baltimore also spent a large portion of the offseason improving its pass rush. The Ravens drafted Tyus Bowser of Houston in the second round of this year's draft and then took Tim Williams from Alabama one round later. Both are high-energy players that showed a tenacity to get to the quarterback in college.
The team is also hoping Kamalei Correa, a second-round pick from Boise State, can improve from his rookie season and take over the starting job at inside linebacker. He appeared in nine games on defense and special teams in 2016. Correa had three tackles and one forced fumble, but was placed on injured reserve Dec. 24 with a rib injury.
"The NFL is not like college football, and that was hard," Correa said about his rookie year. "My playbook expanded. Special teams - I didn't really play special teams in college, so that was tough. I think it was just a huge learning year. Year One and Year Two is such a big difference.
"I feel like in Year Two, you know what to expect, you know what is coming, you know your playbook a little more. So in actuality, it really allows you to play faster. When you play faster, you start making plays, and when you start making plays, you are going to stay on the field."
Terrell Suggs, who appears to be in prime shape as he enters his 15th season, also played well in the recent mandatory minicamp. "I haven't felt this good in June in years," Suggs said.
Last year, Suggs led the team with eight sacks, but he turns 35 in October. Baltimore is hopeful Suggs can still make an impact.
One thing is clear: Suggs is not ready to retire.
"Time is undefeated," Suggs said. "When it's time to cross that bridge, we will. But I don't think it's time yet."
Overall, Ravens head coach John Harbaugh is also pleased with the team's progress so far. There is an obvious sense of urgency after missing the playoffs in three of the past four seasons.
"Our guys are practicing fast," Harbaugh said. "You can see assignments; you can see technique. You can certainly see execution, especially in the passing game. That is important, but we have a long way to go."