Baltimore Ravens  

 

Baltimore Ravens preserving identity amid transitional offseason

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Elvis Dumervil called out to Arthur Jones and said, "Come here real quick."

It was after yet another businesslike organized team activity under yet another hot sun last week, and Jones said he thought Dumervil, a relatively new teammate, wanted to talk over something. But then the 29-year-old Dumervil instructed him to bring his cleats. Suddenly, Jones found himself back out on the practice field, running sprints and doing those stand-squat-plank-squat-stand energy killers known as burpees  -- in general, taking part in a grueling conditioning session alongside Dumervil. It was, Jones said, exactly the sort of thing Ray Lewis would have done.

"It was fun, too," Jones said.

Chemistry is that not-easy-to-define intangible that the Baltimore Ravens found somewhere along a middling November and early December in 2012. A veteran core of players convinced teammates they were each playing for more than themselves and that they had Lombardi Trophy potential -- even after losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers' third-string, 37-year-old quarterback.

Now Lewis is retired, Ed Reed is playing for the Houston Texans and Anquan Boldin is off with the Super Bowl runner-up San Francisco 49ers.

There was definitely a difference out behind the Ravens' building; where the soundtrack was once provided by Lewis' constant voice, it now consisted of a piped-in musical playlist (one that included "Mambo No. 5"). One by one, from Jones to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, the Ravens acknowledged it was weird. But one by one, the Ravens also predicted it wouldn't be the gutting it's routinely been labeled this offseason.

"There's guys missing, they're gone; we're going to miss them," receiver Jacoby Jones said. "But the spirit is the same. The guys they brought in, we all have the same type of personality, the same spirit. (General manager) Ozzie (Newsome) knew what he was doing when he brought those guys in."

Newsome established what a Ravens player would be long ago, and thus far, these new guys appear to fit that mold. Dumervil is a tireless worker who blankly told Jones, "It takes a little something extra to be something special."

It is, of course, too soon to pronounce that Dumervil's teammates have heard his gospel, and it might be too soon for another six months. But still, this new-faced Ravens team is showing good signs.

The defense is definitely younger. And once the playbook is fully ingested, the unit will be faster, too.

There's genuine competition for jobs. Pees said that, for the past 16 years, a middle linebacker walking into the Ravens' headquarters knew he would be a backup. Now, spots are open that haven't been for a decade. Pees, for one, said he's been charged by the renewed teaching and classroom work. Because he can't rely on someone knowing exactly what he's asking for, he has to be more specific.

"The thing I really like is the competitiveness between the first and second group," he said. "Whenever somebody leaves, you can go back 50 years, whether it was (Dick) Butkus or Ray Lewis, somebody always ends up stepping up -- and has to step up."

And so that is the Ravens' objective as they move into training camp. Finding their new leaders and new voices, formulating their new chemistry.

Dumervil alternately called the group's incipient personality "awesome" and "amazing."

Now, many a veteran (Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata) is not here, and OTAs are not the dog days of August. Still, there are good signs. Like Jones calling extra sprints "fun."

Follow Aditi Kinkhabwala on Twitter @AKinkhabwala.

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