The Baltimore Ravens were painfully close to making a Super Bowl appearance last season. The team looks to rebound from that disappointment this season without the services of reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. Here are the five biggest questions facing the Baltimore Ravens.
Will the team suffer a hangover from the AFC Championship Game defeat?
Baltimore's 2011 season ended in excruciating fashion when Lee Evans dropped the go ahead touchdown pass and, just seconds later, Billy Cundiff missed a field goal that would have tied the game. Evans and Cundiff are now ex-Ravens but the stench of last season's disappointment could stick with the team.
How will the Ravens replace Terrell Suggs?
Suggs suffered an Achilles injury shortly after the NFL Draft in April. In a pure stroke of good fortune the Ravens had selected Alabama linebacker Courtney Upshaw with the draft's 35th selection. Upshaw figures to be in the mix for snaps at outside linebacker in Suggs' absence. Young veterans Albert McClellan, Paul Kruger, and the enigmatic Sergio Kindle will also get a crack at rushing the passer. New defensive coordinator Dean Pees will need to get creative to create a consistent pass rush while Suggs is on the mend.
Is rookie Justin Tucker up to the task?
The Ravens cut kicker Billy Cundiff last weekend and named undrafted rookie Justin Tucker as the team's placekicker to start the season. Tucker, a product of the University of Texas, impressed in training camp and nailed a 53 yard field goal in Baltimore's third preseason game against Jacksonville. The rookie seems to have the talent but will he have the nerves needed to consistently hit meaningful NFL kicks?
Will the young receivers improve?
Torrey Smith had a terrific rookie season in 2011 but there were numerous occasions where Smith dropped long would-be touchdown passes. The youngster also disappeared at times in the offense. If Smith can become a more consistent contributor he'll add another dimension to the Ravens' offense. Third year tight end Ed Dickson struggled with dropped passes last season. QB Joe Flacco seemed to lose confidence in Dickson as the season progressed and started throwing in the direction of fellow TE Dennis Pitta more frequently. Dickson has the size and speed to be a match up problem for opposing defenses but he needs to become a more reliable receiver.
Will the offensive line hold up?
The Ravens enter the season with questions along the offensive line. Center Matt Birk signed a new contract in the offseason but he struggled in the AFC Championship game loss to the Patriots. Left tackle Bryant McKinnie reported late to training camp with a back injury. The Ravens lost guard Ben Grubbs to the Saints as a free agent in the offseason. Grubbs replacement is likely to be either rookie second round pick Kelechi Osemele or 35 year old veteran Bobby Williams.
*Information gathered from http://www.nfl.com