A few months ago, the Super Bowl honeymoon was definitely over for Ravens fans.
Ray Lewis had retired. Anquan Boldin had been traded. Ed Reed had signed with the Texans. Dannell Ellerbe was smiling and wearing a Dolphins hat. Every day, it seemed, another piece of the Ravens Super Bowl puzzle was breaking away. It might not have been panic in the streets, but there was plenty of teeth-gnashing among Ravens fans.
Fast forward to July, and much of that concern has died down. Sure, there are still questions, but what team doesn't have them when training camp opens? And while the rest of the league probably doesn't want to hear it, in many way the Ravens have improved since the Super Bowl.
Here are five ways they have done so:
1. The pass rush got better.
The Ravens lost Paul Kruger (team-high nine sacks) to free agency, but then they landed an even better player at a cheaper price thanks to a faulty fax machine in Denver. Elvis Dumervil has 63.5 career sacks, Kruger has 15.5. Plus, Terrell Suggs appears to be back and ready to go. He was understandably nowhere near his Defensive Player of the Year form last year as he battled through Achilles and triceps injuries.
2. Jim Caldwell has had an entire offseason to scheme.
The Ravens offensive coordinator jumped into that chair midseason last year after Cam Cameron was let go. Now Caldwell has had an entire offseason and run of minicamps to work with Joe Flacco and put his stamp on the Ravens offense.
3. Jimmy Smith is healthy.
The Ravens have been waiting for Smith to live up to his first-round potential, and the third-year cornerback showed flashes of it late last season, especially in the final drive of the Super Bowl. Smith had sports hernia surgery that cost him five games, and he said he never did feel at 100 percent. But after taking up a boxing regimen this offseason, Smith said he is as healthy as he has been as a pro. If he stays that way, that bodes well for the Ravens secondary.
4. The defensive line is deeper.
General manager Ozzie Newsome didn't mince words at the Ravens pre-draft news conference: " We think we have to get better at defensive tackle," he said. The Ravens did. They signed free agent defensive tackle Marcus Spears, they signed veteran defensive lineman Chris Canty, who can play multiple spots on the line, and they drafted an impressive prospect in Brandon Williams. Those players should also help ease Haloti Ngata's workload, and that should make him a better, healthier player this year.
5. The team is younger and faster.
One recurring theme of this year's roster turnover was age. The Ravens oldest players last season were Ray Lewis, Matt Birk, Bobbie Williams, Brendon Ayanbadejo, Ed Reed and Ma'ake Kemoeatu. Every one of them is gone. This year's team might have some growing pains in spots, but it will be younger and faster.