- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Quarterbacks

The key to the Ravens’ playoff chances is Kyle Boller, who will have to show dramatic improvement in his third season. His quarterback rating last year was an uninspiring 70.9 with 13 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. Boller could not move the offense in critical situations and has had another erratic preseason. The addition of offensive coordinator Jim Fassel should help, as should a more wide-open system. Anthony Wright, who missed last season after shoulder surgery, is a serviceable back-up.

Running backs

Power back Jamal Lewis remains the offense’s centerpiece despite a tough offseason in which he missed all workouts and the start of camp. Lewis served time in federal prison and a halfway house after pleading guilty to using a cell phone to arrange a cocaine deal. Lewis was the NFL’s offensive player of the year in 2003, when he rushed for 2,066 yards. However, he saw little action this preseason because of a bone spur in his right foot. The explosive 5-foot-11, 245-pounder missed the final four games last season and had surgery on his right ankle. The Ravens have a capable backup in Chester Taylor, who ran for 151 yards on 13 carries in a preseason game against New Orleans.

Receivers

Baltimore made a considerable effort to upgrade perhaps its weakest position last season. The Ravens brought in veteran Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, the 22nd overall pick in the draft. The 5-11 Mason, a two-time Pro Bowler in his ninth season, led all NFL wide receivers with 96 catches for Tennessee last season. Clayton was a two-time All-Big 12 selection at Oklahoma and is another explosive threat. Coaches have raved about Clarence Moore, the second-year player who gives the team a big target at 6-6. Two-time Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap, who played in only six games last season and had ankle and shoulder surgeries in the offseason, is vital to opening up the passing game. The 6-5, 252-pounder gives Boller a nice target for short-range passes. Heap missed the first three preseason games while recovering from injuries.

Offensive line

The Ravens displayed their power blocking in the ground game in the preseason but have been poor in pass protection. Left tackle Jonathan Ogden is back, and the eight-time Pro Bowler anchors a solid line that now includes Keydrick Vincent, a 6-5, 325-pound right guard who started for Pittsburgh last season. Center Mike Flynn, right tackle Orlando Brown and left guard Edwin Mulitalo provide experience and continuity. Versatile Tony Pashos will be a top reserve.

Defensive line

The Ravens’ defense should again be dominant. Third-year end Terrell Suggs recorded 11 sacks — third in the league — last season as he made the Pro Bowl. Suggs played outside linebacker last season in the 4-3 set but is a lineman in new offensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s scheme. Fourth-year starter Anthony Weaver seals the other side. Kelly Gregg, also a four-year starter, has moved from nose tackle to defensive tackle, and 6-5, 350-pound Tonga-born Maake Kemoeatu takes over the nose position after spending his first three seasons as a reserve.

Linebackers

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis is back for his 10th season and is the top reason the defense has been so consistently strong. The seven-time Pro Bowler, two-time NFL defensive player of the year and Super Bowl XXXV MVP led the team with 200 tackles (122 solo) last season. He is surrounded by Tommy Polley, a Baltimore native who was a three-year starter with St. Louis before signing with his hometown team in the offseason, and Adalius Thomas, who started all 16 games for the Ravens last season. Peter Boulware signed late in camp, returns to provide experienced depth.

Secondary

The secondary is loaded. Newcomer Samari Rolle will play corner opposite Chris McAlister, with returning NFL defensive player of the year Ed Reed at strong safety. Rolle started the past seven seasons for Tennessee and has 23 career interceptions. McAlister is coming off his second Pro Bowl appearance and has established himself as one of the NFL’s top cover corners. Reed set a Cleveland Browns/Ravens franchise record with nine interceptions last season and returned one an NFL-record 106 yards for a touchdown. Free safety Will Demps is starting for a fourth season. Deion Sanders is no longer “Prime Time” at 38 but remains a capable nickel back.

Special teams

Kicker Matt Stover is in his 16th season with the franchise after making 29 of 32 field goals, an impressive 90.6 percent. He made 16 of 17 within 40 yards and 11 of 13 beyond 40 yards. Punter Dave Zastudil is back after averaging 40.4 yards last season. B.J. Sams will handle kickoff and punt returns. The second-year speedster averaged 21.2 yards on kickoffs and 10.5 on punts with two touchdowns.

Coaches

Brian Billick enters his seventh season as coach of the Ravens. The 51-year-old led them to the 2000 Super Bowl title but has been to the playoffs only once in the last three seasons. Former New York Giants head coach Jim Fassel replaces offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh, who was scorned for the offense’s ineffectiveness and resigned under pressure. Rex Ryan is the new defensive coordinator. The son of Buddy Ryan will take over one of the NFL’s best defenses. Former University of Washington coach Rick Neuheisel, who was fired for betting in an NCAA tournament basketball pool, is in his first season as quarterbacks coach.

Jon Siegel

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