Dave Choate: The Ravens' defense always seems to wind up being a calling card. Who are your key additions this year, and has this traditionally formidable defense improved or decline this offseason?
Nathan Beaucage: Last year's Achilles heel for us was a injury-ravaged secondary. It seems that everyone and anyone in the secondary went down. We were playing a bunch of free agent scrubs in the playoffs versus Tom Brady and still barely lost. It's widely believed amongst Ravens fans that last year's squad with a healthy secondary would be a Super Bowl caliber team.
So our front office took care of that, adding CB Kyle Arrington and S Kendrick Lewis, among others. While they aren't the most flashy of signings, I think these two will surprise many. The talented CB Jimmy Smith is an underrated corner who is actually one of the best in the league. If I recall correctly, he basically took Calvin Johnson, Jr. out of the game the last time we faced the Lions. We lost him on account of a Lisfranc injury (I believe) for most of the season last year, but he's back on track to play and lock down receivers again.
This Ravens defense is young, but dangerous. With Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Haloti Ngata all gone, new guys are trying to fill their place. Second-year ILB C.J. Mosley was a force last year, and was a strong candidate for DROY. Ngata shouldn't be missed too much once DL Timmy Jernigan and DL Brandon Williams show the world what they're made of.
Despite the lack of big names, this year's Ravens defense is as dangerous as ever.
Dave Choate: Looking for a sense of how Joe Flacco will fare with a new passing guru in town and some potentially nice weapons added to the roster. Is this a potential career year in the making?
Nathan Beaucage: I would pump the brakes a bit on that hype train. While Trestman is a so-called 'quarterback whisperer', we know that he'll remain true for the most part to Kubiak's scheme last year. Flacco actually had his best statistical year last season under Kubiak. While he might add his own unique touches, the essentials of Kubiak's scheme will remain in place. I don't expect Joe to set the league on fire or anything, that's not like him.
Dave Choate: I'm a fan of rookie tight end Maxx Williams. How does he look thus far, and what's his role look like in 2015?
Nathan Beaucage: Not as big as everyone thinks. As it was shown last year with Eric Ebron, I think people fail to realize that there's a high learning curve for rookie tight ends. Most young TEs don't break out onto the scene until their second or even third year. The Ravens will likely start the talented Crockett Gilmore this year, and keep Maxx waiting in the wings.
As for his performance, he's looked solid in limited play so far. Although his hurdling attempts have put him in some danger to get lit up, as that happened in Week 2 against the Eagles.
Dave Choate: Give us one player on either side of the ball we need to keep an eye on in this battle of the backups.
Nathan Beaucage: As I've been talking to the other blogs, I normally list the same guys when I get this question, and I think I'll do it again.
On offense, rookie receiver Darren Waller has been on fire of late. The 6' 6" pass-catcher has separated himself from being a sixth-round flier to a guy with real potential. Can he join Calvin and Demaryius in being the next great Georgia Tech receiver?
Backup QB Bryn Renner has also been giving the veteran Matt Schaub a serious run for his money. A good performance from Renner could be the final nail in the coffin for Schaub.
On defense, I'd say watch out for the whole Ravens defensive line. The guys in the second and third-string units are all pretty young, unproven, and on the bubble.
Dave Choate: Expectations for the game, and your 2015 season?
Nathan Beaucage: I mean, it's the fourth preseason game. The starters aren't even playing, and I haven't a clue what to expect. I just can't wait for Week 1.
As for the upcoming season, I've got the Ravens pegged to go 10-5 and winning the AFC North. Beyond that, who knows. I know this team is capable of winning a Lombardi Trophy, but anything can happen in the playoffs.