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Ravens camp report: Team has Super Bowl aspirations

  • By Pat Kirwan NFL.com
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Pat Kirwan recently visited Ravens camp in Owings Mills, Md. Here's what he saw.

Observation deck

1. A lot of new faces. The Ravens had a large number of free agents and released a lot of veterans. Twelve veterans have already signed with other teams, so the Ravens will have between 6-8 new starters. Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson are fighting it out for the tight end spot vacated by Todd Heap.

2. The offensive line. The O-Line is the most glaring issue at Ravens camp. Their biggest nemesis is the Pittsburgh Steelers, who had nine sacks in the last two games they played against the Ravens. Right now center Matt Birk is limping around and the right tackle situation is cloudy at best. Don't be surprised if Baltimore signs two free agents to build up the offensive line.

3. The tight end battle. Todd Heap is now an Arizona Cardinal and the Ravens think the answer to replacing Heap is on the roster. Keep a close eye on Pitta (#88) and Dickson (#83) as they battle for the job. They are both quality players.

4. Rookie impact. It is hard for rookies to break into an NFL lineup, and the Ravens are a great example of that. Cornerback Jimmy Smith might make it, but expectations that second-round pick WR Torrey Smith, third-round pick OT Jah Reid or any other rookie will crack the lineup are a bit premature.

New guys to watch

» Lee Evans, WR. The Ravens were a slow offense in 2010, and they were in desperate need of a vertical threat. After watching Evans at practice, it is clear he is just what the doctor ordered for this offense.

» Jimmy Smith, CB. Smith is tall with long arms, and the plan is to lock him up with big receivers. He's a work in progress, but from Ray Lewis to defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano, word is that he is the real deal. He may be the only rookie to break into the starting lineup.

» Sergio Kindle, OLB. Kindle missed a year of football and there was some real concern that he may never return. He did tell GM Ozzie Newsome, "I have a young brain and I will make it back." He's back and he adds immediate support to the pass rush.

» Bernard Pollard, S. Pollard led the Texans in tackles last year and is a box safety who complements Ed Reed, especially on run downs. The club likes Tom Zbikowski at safety, but look for Pollard in certain situations.

» Ed Dickson, TE. Dickson had three starts last year and he's penciled in to replace Heap. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called him "special" and he has to be to keep competitor Dennis Pitta off the field. Pitta looked good in the first preseason game, but when Dickson returned from injury at practice he was back in the lineup.

Overheard

"Paul was miscast last year and is looking good at OLB instead of DE."
Ozzie Newsome on third-year pro Paul Kruger

"We believe in pressure and we will get after the QB."
Defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano on his philosophy

"I'm like a construction worker: I just keep working to build something big."
Ray Rice describing himself

"I played for a lot of teams and have signed 15 different contracts, but this was the hardest team to break in with and it was worth the wait ... you gotta earn your way onto this team."
Kicker Billy Cundiff on becoming a Raven

Prediction

The Ravens were 13-5 last year including the playoffs. Their ability to reach the Super Bowl depends on beating Pittsburgh, and until they protect Joe Flacco and get Big Ben on the ground it remains an issue. I have a feeling the Ravens defense is up to the task of getting to Roethlisberger, but the offensive line is less certain. There's little doubt in my mind this team can win double-digit games once again, but going all the way remains a question.

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