NFL Preseason Preview - Baltimore (0-0) at Tampa Bay (0-0)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Super Bowl XLVII champion Baltimore Ravens get back to business on Thursday, opening up their preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
The Ravens group taking the field in central Florida, however, will be quite different than the one which won the big game in February, and much has been made about what Baltimore has lost since edging San Francisco to win the franchise's second NFL title.
Superstar linebacker Ray Lewis and veteran Pro Bowl center Matt Birk retired after the Super Bowl, while wide receiver Anquan Boldin was traded to the 49ers. Safety Bernard Pollard was cut and signed with Tennessee, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe went to Miami as a free agent, rush linebacker Paul Kruger signed with Cleveland, cornerback Cary Williams went up I-95 to Philadelphia and veteran safety Ed Reed took his act to Houston.
Things got even murkier earlier in camp when Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco, who signed a monster contract extension in the offseason, loss his security blanket when tight end Dennis Pitta went down with a season-ending dislocated hip.
General manager Ozzie Newsome has done a decent job of replenishing things especially of defense, bringing in ex-Broncos pass rusher Elvis Dumervil as well as veterans Marcus Spears and Chris Canty. He also got younger at safety by brining in former Oakland No. 1 pick Michael Huff and drafting Florida's Matt Elam in the first round. The trio of Jameel McClain, former Jacksonville standout Daryl Smith and Kansas State rookie Arthur Brown will have the unenviable task of trying to replace Lewis and or Ellerbe in the middle of the defense.
"I've just been watching, listening and reading what people have been saying about us, and I don't feel people respect us for what we accomplished last season and the group we have assembled this year," star pass rusher Terrell Suggs said. "I know critics are supposed to have their opinions, but I'm getting pumped to prove them wrong. I love this new group."
Under head coach John Harbaugh Baltimore is the NFL's only team to make the playoffs each of the last five years so chances are good the Ravens will remain very competitive.
"We have a very competitive training camp, and that brings out the best in everyone," Harbaugh said. "The competition we have every day between our offense and defense will have us ready for games. We have the most unique challenge in football: There's only one team that has the opportunity to win two Super Bowls in a row. That's us, and we're excited about that. The game at Tampa is another step in our process and another test to see where we are right now."
Tampa Bay, which finished 7-9 under first-year head coach Greg Schiano in 2012, has done much to bolster its anemic secondary from a year ago, the key flaw in a team which started 6-4 but dropped five of its final six contests en route to missing the postseason for the fifth-straight year.
Even before Ronde Barber called it a career, cornerback was an obvious need for the Buccaneers and general manager Mark Domenik pulled the trigger on the Darrelle Revis trade before the draft, giving up his first-round selection to the New York Jets for the best corner in football when healthy. Revis, though, is coming off an ACL injury so watching his progress in the preseason will be paramount.
The Bucs supplemented the Revis pickup in the second round of the draft by snaring a very lengthy corner in Mississippi State's Johnthan Banks, a player who would have had a first-round grade if he had a little more speed.
On offense all eyes will be on quarterback Josh Freeman, who will be given one final chance to prove he is the answer moving forward. Schiano hedged his bets on Freeman by drafting a solid developmental signal caller in North Carolina State's Mike Glennon, a strong-armed, accurate passer in the mold of Flacco.
These two clubs have never met in the preseason before and have split four games in the regular season.
08/07 11:44:00 ET