Training Camp is about to wrap for 2009 and now that we get closer to the second pre-season game with Ravens North, ahem the New York Jets I’d like to take a good look at the most important question for this team in 2009?

Was last year just a great run, a time aligning of the planeta or was it the start of something to expect for years to come with this franchise?

As I dove into the stat books, since the club arrived in 1996, they are 107-100-1 during the regular season, with a 7-4 playoff record and of course one Super Bowl championship.  But the most glaring thing since that 2000 championship is the team’s roller coaster like inconsistency.

Baltimore won their first AFC North in 2003,  then missed the playoffs in 2004 and then went on to only win 6 games in 2005. Steve McNair was acquired and they win their second AFC North crown in 2006, and then follow that up with a five win effort in 2007 and then the fantastic trip to the AFC championship game off the strength of an eleven win campaign in 08.

So where is this team headed in 2009?

I’m glad I asked because I think that the Ravens are set to compete once again and should be considered a Top 5 team in the AFC this season.

Here’s Why:

  • Coaching – John Harbaugh can be corny, cocky, and even fiesty (don’t ask him about injury reports) but he was born to be a head coach. It’s in his DNA to take over the family business. The one thing this team has needed for YEARS has been discipline. Harbaugh has wasted no time in instilling that mindset as priority number one amongst this squad. I know exhibition games don’t mean much but it was very noticeable to me how the first units conduct their business against Washington. The offense looked crisp and the defense looked like the same D that has terrorized the NFL for the last ten seasons. Which leads me to Greg Mattison. The guy has tremendous experience and he showed intelligence in his comments about his defense. He praised his players, not the scheme. Great players make coaches look great. Mattison I think will actually be an improvement over Rex Ryan. He’ll stick to the basics a bit more and my feeling is if my 11 is better than yours then just let them do what they do best.
  • The Offense will improve again – Baltimore actually showed signs of offensive life this past season while mad genius Cam Cameron was busy running Mark Clayton on reverses and putting two quarterbacks on the field at the same time. Cheap tricks aside, the Ravens have some offensive weapons. Joe Flacco is the franchise quarterback the team has been looking for since the pro bowl days of Vinny T. No sophomore slump in sight. The running game will continue to thrive with a jacked up Ray Rice, an in shape and motivated Willis McGahee and the bruising style of Le’Ron McClain. Derrick Mason’s return was important as he remains the team’s most dependable receiver but Todd Heap is finally feeling good so don’t leave him off your radar just yet. Michael Oher is going to have growing pains but his presence will allow Heap to do what he does best – catch passes. The offensive line is young,athletic, and versatile but I love the acquisition of the old hand, Matt Birk. He’s an intelligent pro that will help these guys gel.
  • The Defense will still be Top Ten – Ryan’s departure is covered. What about Bart Scott? Tavares Gooden is fast and explosive to the ball. If he doesn’t work out the team has great depth at backer with Jameel McClain, Prescott Burgess, and Antawan Barnes. Each will see time depending on the situation. The secondary has depth as well and is stocked with quickness. I loved Jim Leonhard but he’s replaceable.
  • Depth – The Ravens sent 16 players to the injured reserve last season, one of the highest totals in the NFL. Kelly Gregg is out the whole season, Justin Bannan steps in. Dawan Landry is out due to a violent collision, Jim Leonhard takes the opportunity and runs with it. Marshall Yanda goes down, Chris Chester fills the void. Time and again players have responded to the challenge. The rookie class they brought in is a good group. You’ve heard about Oher and Kruger but Lardarius Webb could steal a starting corner job by next season and Davon Drew could get some chances. No team can endure hits to their core players but there are plenty of quality football players on this team.
  • Battle Tested – I love the schedule this season. It has a mix of teams that the Ravens on paper at least, should get wins over (Oakland, Denver) and plenty of stern challenges. They go away to Minnesota and New England and they must face two teams that as of late have had their number in Indianapolis and Pittsburgh. They will get a chance to atone for the those losses from a year ago and they should have a clear idea if they are a playoff team in 2009. Last season they did a excellent job of slamming the door on teams that weren’t up to snuff. All of their losses were to quality teams, now they must take the next step and beat a few of them.