The Raven’s offense, while they didnt lose too many starters, still lost players whose departure will greatly impact the dynamic of the offense next season. The two key players of note that everyone is talking about is obviously Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk. With these two key departures there will definitely have to be some players that need to step up on offense in order for the team to be successful. Obviously someone has to step in and fill the roles left by those two men, but there are other positions on the offensive side of the ball that have to rise to the occasion.
#1: Gino Gradkowski – Center
I mentioned that Matt Birk left and that his role was going to have to be filled. Well as it stands right now the position is Gino Gradkowski’s to lose. The center position is supposed to be the leader of the line and he’s going to have to take the reigns and lead this line that has a ton of potential. Obviously Gino is going to have to build a good relationship with quarterback Joe Flacco. Matt Birk’s shoes are going to be difficult ones to fill, however I think that Gino Gradkowski has the potential to be a very solid anchor in the middle of the offensive line.
#2: Jacoby Jones – Wide Receiver
As it stands right now Jacoby Jones is the #2 receiver on the Raven’s offense. He is a receiver who has never broken the 600-yard mark in a season. He has a ton of big play potential on special teams and offense, but the highest total yardage he has ever been able to amass in a single season is 562 yards back in 2010 for the Houston Texans. Anquan Boldin last season had close to 1000-yards last season and had a remarkable postseason as he led the Raven’s receiving game. Jacoby Jones also showed his big playmaking ability on offense in the postseason when he had two of the biggest plays for the Ravens in the postseason. Jacoby Jones is going to have to elevate his game and really help carry this offense and take the pressure off of of the constant barrage of double teams that teams are going to throw at him.
#3 Bryant McKinnie
Most of the guys who are really going to have to step up for the Ravens are guys on the offensive line. The reason for this is because the offensive line is an area on the team with a lot of question marks. One big area is the left tackle position that is going to be protecting the blind side of Joe Flacco. Until recently it looked like Michael Oher was going to have to make the transition back over to the left side and try to reestablish himself as a premier pass-blocker. Well, the Ravens went out and managed to reacquire big left tackle Bryant McKinnie. McKinnie is a guy who has a lot of conditioning issues. He’s a very big man and it takes a lot for him to be out there for a full game. So it is going to be really interesting to see how he holds up at left tackle this season. He didnt start a single game last season for the Ravens until playoff times came. One positive note is that he played extremely well in the playoffs and he has agreed to lose weight before the start of this season. He’s shown a commitment to becoming a regular fixture on the Raven’s line and we’re going to need him to play really well and keep Joe Flacco upright.
#4 Michael Oher – Right Tackle
This is going to be a big year for Michael Oher. He started last season at the left tackle position. That didnt seem to work out too well as it became all to apparent that Michael Oher simply cannot play the left tackle position in the NFL. On the left side he is just average at the position. On the right side however he shows a lot of promise. His talents are more suited for a run-blocking tackle than a pass-blocking one. With Bryant McKinnie signed to a two year deal it is going to fall on the shoulders of the Michael Oher to really shore up the right side of the line with Marshal Yanda and pave the way for Ray Rice and the running game.
#5 Joe Flacco -Quarterback
He’s the man with a 6-year, $120.6 million contract. He’s the man who came out before last season and said that he was an elite quarterback. He’s the man that led his team to the playoffs, again, and this time finally managed to break through the obstacles in front of him and win the Lombardi Trophy. He’s “Cool” Joe Flacco and he is going to have to be very cool this season coming up. He claims to be elite. People in the media are finally starting to recognize him as elite. For me and elite quarterback is one that has the ability to step up and make the other guys on his team into great players. Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers are all quarterbacks that have the ability to make receivers around them better. They have the ability to, no matter who is on their team, still put up ridiculous numbers and, in the process, win games. Joe Flacco still, at least for me, has to work on that. This year is the perfect opportunity to. He has a receiver that is poised to completely break out and become a star. He has a solid, not great, #2 receiver in Jacoby Jones and a bunch of young guys who are chomping at the bit to really show what they have. He has back his go-to-guy Dennis Pitta as well. So Joe Flacco this season is going to have to step up and show that he can make these guys better. He is going to have to own his highest paid contract status and he is going to have to take on all comers and win games. He cant afford to have a mediocre season. With the contract that he just signed he is going to have to have a great, if not MVP type, season.