COMMENTARY | Today marks the official beginning of the 2013 season for the defending Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens.
For a team that didn't fail to stay out of the headlines with its myriad of roster moves, the first day of practice allows the players and coaches to put the 2012 season behind them and focus on their pursuit of another championship.
A team with many new faces on both sides of the ball figures to bring excitement to training camp this year, as there are plenty of unanswered questions heading into the season. There promises to be plenty of unexpected surprises during the preseason for the Ravens, whether it's a roster move or a lesser-known player who emerges as a top contributor this season.
Here are some things to expect during training camp in Baltimore:
Plenty of Rookie Participation
For the Ravens this season, the play of their rookies could ultimately decide whether or not they are legitimate Super Bowl contenders again. They will turn to at least two rookies, safety Matt Elam and linebacker Arthur Brown, to take over as starters. Third-round pick Brandon Williams could also come out of training camp with a starting job, depending on whether or not the team uses Haloti Ngata at defensive end or nose tackle.
Offensively, fourth-round pick and do-it-all player Kyle Juszczyk is currently slated to be the starting fullback, although the offense figures to operate mainly without a fullback this season. That won't keep Juszczyk off the field this season, though, as his pass-catching skills will prove valuable.
Offensive lineman Ricky Wagner, outside linebacker John Simon and wide receiver Aaron Mellette all also figure to have a role with the team during their rookie season. Of the three, Simon will likely see the most playing time.
A Defensive Line by Committee
As mentioned with Williams' prospects of winning a starting job, the Ravens' defensive line could hinge on where Ngata plays this season. Regardless, the Ravens have more than enough depth along the defensive line, and they could perhaps have one of the most talented and deepest defensive fronts in the NFL.
Assuming the Ravens continue to operate primarily out of a base 3-4 (although there figures to be more 4-3 looks this season), there will be plenty of talented linemen who won't be named starters. Ngata, free-agent addition Chris Canty, defensive end Arthur Jones, Williams and Terrence Cody (if he makes the team) figure to have the largest roles.
The team also signed veteran Marcus Spears and have 2012 seventh-round pick DeAngelo Tyson to help contribute in rotational roles.
The defensive line figures to rotate frequently this year in Baltimore.
A Better, Faster Defense
One of the priorities the Ravens had during the offseason was to get younger, faster and more talented on defense. They did all three of those things with ease, upgrading at almost every position that they lost. In the secondary, the Ravens moved on from safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, two players way past their prime.
They were replaced by rookie Matt Elam and veteran Michael Huff, two newcomers who promise to bring more speed and versatility to the defense. Cornerback Lardarius Webb also returns to the secondary, and having one of the top corners in the NFL will prove to be valuable this season.
Along the front seven, the defensive line was upgraded by adding depth and versatility. Williams and Canty can play multiple positions along the defensive line, and all signs point to both of them having large roles during their first season in Baltimore.
At linebacker, the Ravens lost outside linebacker Paul Kruger via free agency but were able to sign veteran Elvis Dumervil -- a more talented and well-rounded player -- for less money. Having a player in Dumervil who can play both the pass and the run will prove to be valuable, as Kruger was simply a one-trick pony during his time in Baltimore.
The position where there will be a transitional period is at inside linebacker, where the Ravens are replacing two veterans in Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe. Rookie Arthur Brown and veterans Daryl Smith and Jameel McClain may not sound as intriguing, but they figure to provide better pass coverage in the middle of the defense, something Ellerbe and Lewis simply couldn't do last season.
Kyle Casey is a sports writer living in Baltimore, Md. He maintains his own football site, End Zone Report, and is the editor of Cat Crave.
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