Ozzie Identified Biggest Offseason Needs

Offensive line, receiver and pass rusher are three areas the Ravens will look to improve.

Posted by Garrett Downing on Thursday, February 2nd, 2012 at 2:46 pm | Categories: Garrett Downing

For a team that came as close as the Ravens to making it to the Super Bowl, the list of offseason upgrades isn’t necessarily lengthy.

But there are some definite needs at critical positions.

When asked Wednesday about the Ravens biggest needs this offseason, General Manager Ozzie Newsome identified three specific areas:  offensive line, wide receivers and pass rushers.

Here is a closer look at all three positions.

Offense Line

The Ravens could lose two of their five starters and the top backup on the line.

Left guard Ben Grubbs, center Matt Birk and backup center Andre Gurode are all unrestricted free agents. Grubbs may fetch a higher salary than the Ravens are willing to pay, and Birk, a 14-year veteran, is also contemplating retirement.

Losing all three players would leave a significant void in the Ravens’ protection.

“I think you have to start with the offensive line,” Newsome said. “We are going to have to build on the offensive line.”

Right tackle Michael Oher, right guard Marshal Yanda and left tackle Bryant McKinnie are all signed through next season. The Ravens signed McKinnie as a free agent just before the start of last season and started every game at left tackle.

“We were able to get ‘Big Mac’ [Bryant McKinnie] in here late in August and get him to play. He played every snap on the offensive side of the ball, which is incredible,” Newsome said.

The Ravens could keep the three returning starters at their current positions and bring in new players at center and left guard through the draft or free agency. They could also look for rookie Jah Reid to play a larger role next year, potentially even moving him from tackle to guard.

The one certainty is that there will be some new faces on the Ravens line at the start of next season. 

Wide Receiver

The Ravens wide receiver corps showed some bright spots this season, but the group wasn’t particularly deep and there could be some changes during the offseason.

“I think we will still build at the receiver spot,” Newsome said. “I think we’ll work there.”

Veteran Anquan Boldin was the team’s top receiver, finishing the season with 57 catches for 887 yards and three touchdowns. Torrey Smith had a breakout campaign in his rookie season, catching 50 passes for 841 yards and seven touchdowns.

But beyond them, no other wide receiver made a significant impact.

Lee Evans dealt with an injury and caught just four passes, and rookies LaQuan Williams and Tandon Doss had minimal roles on offense.

Outside of Boldin and Smith, the biggest threats in the passing game were tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson, and running back Ray Rice.

To upgrade at receiver, the Ravens could sign a veteran in free agency, target somebody in the draft or look for Doss and Williams to step into a more significant role next season.

Pass Rusher

The Ravens already have a Pro Bowl pass rusher in outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, but Newsome emphasized that “you don’t ever have enough pass rushers.”

Suggs finished the season with 14 sacks and the closest to him was rookie Pernell McPhee with six.

Finding another player to get after quarterbacks is an area where the Ravens will seek some reinforcements.

“If that guy is there, we’ll entertain that also,” Newsome said.

There are some questions on the Ravens front seven, as defensive end Cory Redding and outside linebacker Jarret Johnson are both unrestricted free agents.

If Baltimore chooses not to re-sign them, they do have some young players that could potentially move into starting roles, like defensive end Arthur Jones, and outside linebackers Paul Kruger and Sergio Kindle.

And Baltimore could also bring in another free agent. Top flight pass rushers can be tough to come by on the free-agent market, but if a player is available at the right price, the Ravens will look to jump on it.

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