Ravens look like an elite team

WESTMINSTER, Md. — Until Wednesday, the Eagles had put on the toughest training camp practice I had watched in quite some time. Then I visited Ravens camp and witnessed a practice that was the toughest I’ve seen in at least five years. It rivaled anything I ever went through while I was with the Cowboys.

It was a really tough practice. It was hot. Ray Rice was getting crushed. Every drill was full contact for an hour and a half straight. It was tougher than any preseason game you’re going to see.

Ray Lewis had his tongue hanging out, and he was looking at me and I could see him wondering what John Harbaugh was doing. Lewis doesn’t care about how he feels now, though. He wants to make sure this team can hold up during the regular season.

The Ravens look like an elite team. Offensively, this is the best Ravens team in recent memory. I can’t say enough about how much Anquan Boldin adds to this team. He’s one of the league’s toughest players and is so competitive for every ball. He brings a focus and an intensity they haven’t had on offense. The offensive line has been rebuilt on the fly, and there is depth everywhere except cornerback. That’s what this preseason will be about.

The Ravens look about as good as there is out there right now.

  • The left side of the Ravens’ offensive line with Michael Oher and Ben Grubbs may be the left side of the Pro Bowl line for years to come. They’re very talented.
  • Everyone assumes Todd Heap is the main tight end, but rookie third-round pick TE Ed Dickson from Oregon caught my eye. He’s 6-foot-5 and 250 pounds, and looks like a big wide receiver, but he can play. He’s going to be a good player.
  • Haloti Ngata is an elite player and one of the best in the league, and I think he’s ready to take the next step as an inside pass rusher. We haven’t seen a consistent double-digit sack guy inside since Warren Sapp. I think Ngata is the guy to do it. Just watching him and talking to Ozzie Newsome, there’s nothing the Ravens’ line can do to stop him from getting the inside gap in practice.
  • Joe Flacco looks very comfortable to me. They opened it up for him more last season, but he still didn’t have great weapons. Now he has some legitimate weapons.
  • Marc Bulger understands his role and isn’t a threat to Flacco, but he’s a very smart player. The quarterback meetings get a lot smarter with Bulger there. His experience and recognition will be invaluable in game-planning, and he makes them better. If anything happens to Flacco, Bulger will be ready.
  • Donte Stallworth has looked good. He gives them a speed presence they didn’t previously have. He has fit in right away with both New England and Philadelphia, showing the ability to learn the systems, and should help out right away. He’s always going to be fast, and you have to pay attention to him.
  • It looks like Jared Gaither has lost a lot of weight. I wonder if he can be a physical player at right tackle. The Ravens also have a backup in Chris Chester who could start at center or guard for at least half the teams in the league right now. He’s athletic and an incredible insurance policy to have inside. There’s no drop-off to Chester, and most teams can’t say that.
  • Terrell Suggs had an off year last year and wasn’t on his game, but he looks like he has his focus back. The Ravens have some legitimate edge pass rushers, and he’s elite in this league. If the Ravens are better on offense and the defense can play with a lead, you may see Suggs with 15-plus sacks this season.

– Brian Baldinger

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