RAVENS COACH John Harbaugh showed up for the first day of training camp in a white T-shirt that read: RAVENS FOOTBALL IS HUSTLE. CONSTANT HUSTLE. His team showed up accordingly. Baltimore's oldest player, 36-year-old wide receiver Steve Smith, plunged for a one-handed catch before tumbling to the grass, and quarterback Joe Flacco was quick to counsel journeyman receiver Kamar Aiken after he bobbled a catch during a one-on-one drill. For nearly three hours in broiling heat linemen battled, coaches barked and more than a few bodies flew.
This is an article from the Aug. 24, 2015 issue
When Harbaugh walked off the field, he was grinning. "We've had some bad-ass teams around here," Harbaugh says. "And that's what these guys have to understand: what the standard is."
Maintaining a standard of constant hustle can prove difficult, especially with the constant reshuffling Baltimore has endured. Flacco is playing for his fourth offensive coordinator in four years, and the Ravens have just five starters remaining from the team that won the Super Bowl in February 2013. The only true continuity has been at quarterback, head coach and with general manager Ozzie Newsome, who has committed to a system that breeds sustainable success. Newsome hasn't hesitated to cut ties with marquee players (Haloti Ngata, Pernell McPhee and Torrey Smith to name a few) through free agency or trade and replace them with draft picks. As long as his core philosophies are intact—an aggressive defense and a sound run game setting up the rest of the attack—Newsome is confident he can plug in any missing pieces.
This year none of those holes are on the offensive line. Guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda represent two of the five remaining starters from Baltimore's last championship team, and for the first time in franchise history the Ravens are expected to have the same Week 1 offensive line in back-to-back years. That leaves John Urschel in the same role he had in 2014: a quality backup rotating in as needed. Of course that could change next year with Osemele and Yanda due to be free agents. But for now Baltimore's line hopes to replicate a season in which Flacco was sacked a career-low 19 times and running back Justin Forsett ran for 1,266 yards—more than double his previous career high.
The Ravens are the favorites in the NFL's toughest division (the AFC North sent three teams to the playoffs after the 2014 season) and are a Super Bowl contender. Replacing Ngata is second-year defensive lineman Timmy Jernigan, and filling in for Smith is rookie Brashad Perriman (left), a playmaking receiver who, if he overcomes drop issues, could be a dangerous deep threat. Harbaugh won't have any problem embracing that coaching challenge. During the season the coach is often seen wearing another T-shirt: ABILITY IS GOD-GIVEN. PROWESS IS EARNED.