Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Okay, I am going to try to break this down into 2 parts, due to time constraints today. Before we can look at the season upcoming and the possibilities therein, we need to look at what happened since the team played their last game (I will mention only once that heart breaking loss to the Steelers in the AFC Championship Game, and that was the mention right there. No more).

First and foremost, they lost their Defensive Coordinator / Assistant Head Coach Rex Ryan (the last remaining staff member from the 2000 season) to the New Yotk Jets when he took the job of head coach there. I liked the thought of him being the coach here last year (although in retrospect it is obvious that John Harbaugh was the right man for the job), and I think he will do well in NYC. He definitely has the right attitude for New York, and he certainly isn't afraid of the spotlight that comes with coaching a team in the biggest sports city in the country (even if the Jets are the bastard stepchildren of New York football to the Giants). Also of note, he took LB Bart Scott and S Jim Leonhard with him.

From a fan's point of view I will miss both of them, as they are both playmakers. But from an analytical standpoint, they have replacements on the team that are cheaper and set to do the job. Look for Tavares Gooden to step up in Scott's place (he was having an excellent rookie year until he injured his hip (out with a hip? Was he drinking lattes in oversized mugs while people smoked clove cigarettes and recited morose poetry in an affected style? You see why I hate that "out with a" crap yet?) last year early in the season. Scott was and is a good player, but the Jets overpaid for him as Ryan plans to use him like he used Ray Lewis in Baltimore, and Ryan needs someone in the middle who knows how to run that defense (which Scott has done and done admirably in the past). And if Gooden doesn't work out, Prescott Burgess (technically an outside LB, but he could slide over), or (more likely) Jameel McClain is ready to step in.

As far as Leonard goes, he wasn't even supposed to be the starter, but stepped into the lineup and played well after Dawan Landry bruised his spinal column (and that is as scary as it sounds, folks) during the 2nd game of the season. Leonhard was invaluable as a punt / kick returner as the team seemed to lose faith in Yamon Figurs down the stretch of the season (early prediction, look for Figurs to get cut and rookie Ladarius Webb, who is already turning heads as a gunner on the punt and kick return teams, take over the return duties before the season starts, unless Figurs has one hell of a camp, or the team decides that using Webb back there is too risky for his potential as a true "shutdown" corner)., but the fact is that Leonhard wasdeemed the inferior player to Landry after camp last year, and Landry (who was voted to the Pro Football Weekly All-Rookie team in 2006) has better upside as well. As long as he is fully recovered from his injuries (and again, early reports out of camp are that he is, as his nickname of "Whop" - so given for the sound his pads make when he tackles or hits someone - is a testament to) he is a better player than Leonhard, so there is no drop off there.

Ryan loved to go with crazy schemes and blitzs packages, but his replacement Greg Mattison seems set on running more out of base formations (having as deep a front four as the Ravens have makes that much easier), which could relieve some of the pressure on the secondary (cornerbacks and safeties, like Ed Reed and Samari Rolle), which is also deep if not as talent loaded).

The other big loss was C Jason Brown (but as we looked at before, since the salary cap for linemen is figured as an average of all 5 positions, and since Left Tackle is usually the 2nd or 3rd highest paid position on the offense, he was too expensive to keep. But instead the Ravens signed Matt Birk, a 12 year player, Harvard graduate (!), and voice of experience on an othewrwise young and talented bunch (made even better with the addition of 1st round pick Michael Oher as Right Tackle, who was pretty much just handed the job with the season ending knee injury of Adam Terry, who has probably played his last game here as a Raven). Brown had better size, and was a good deal younger. But Birk might just be a better fit for this team right now, with his ability to help keep the line focused, and as a voice of reason on the field for Joe Flacco, who is going into his 2nd season with MUCH higher expectations on him (and for himself from all reports).

One loss the team DIDN'T suffer was Ray Lewis, who flirted with the idea of free agency after being hurt by the team allowing him to enter a contract year to begin with, but found that the market for a 34 year old middle linebacker with s bit of an injury history and some marketing issues (whatever the courts decided, no matter if he was guilty or innocent - and I truly believe he was guilty only of panicking when something serious happened, because he is human and humans panic sometimes - he isn't the easiest player to sell to the public at large). And having him there makes the Rex Ryan / Greg Mattison transition a lot easier.

Another loss they didn't suffer (or to be more accurate, suffered and then UN-suffered) was the retirement and subsequent return of Wide Receiver / Flacco safety blanket Derrick Mason. Him being back makes things a lot easier.

I mentioned the two big additions in Birk and Oher. Other than that (and the return of Kelly Gregg, who was also on IR all last season, so it is almost like a big free agent signing just getting him back in the fold), there isn't much that was done with the team roster. It is more on how they are going to build off of what they accomplished last year And THAT is what we are going to look at next time (probably tomorrow while I run a bunch of boring work reports).

See you soon!

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