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The Baltimore Ravens had one of their best offseasons in recent years, which has created some optimism in the city.

Now it’s time to start winning.

That’s always the bottom line.

The first full training camp practice opens Thursday, and there is a buzz about this team despite the disappointing way the 2017 season ended in the last game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

We all remember because the agony of that last-minute defeat won’t allow us to forget. The loss kept the Ravens out of the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Combined with dwindling attendance, years of an unimaginative offense and the kneeling by the players for the national anthem, some bitterness carried over after last season.

Sizable shift after organization grows stale: When owner Steve Bisciotti gave his “State of the Ravens” address in early February, he was defensive at times about his team. But there has been a shift because he apparently realized his organization had grown stale.

The result has been a man-around-town tour by team president Dick Cass, who has said several times that the Ravens should have handled the kneeling situation differently. The Ravens have also engaged in conversations with thousands of permanent seat license holders, and allowed some to attend organized team activities and to meet players and team officials.

The Ravens lowered concession prices and are expected to have nearly 2,000 fans at most training camp practices. In addition, yearly improvements have been made to the stadium, including new video boards, audio systems and Wi-Fi. Elevators and escalators will be opened in one end of the stadium in October, and eventually they will be located throughout the facility.

And the Ravens got a bonus: The Orioles aren’t just bad, they are pathetic. They are a non-entity.

Offensive improvements: Instead, it has been the Ravens who have done most of the heavy hitting on the field. They might have added some offensive playmakers by drafting tight ends South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst and Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews, as well as Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson.

A year ago, they had one of the worst receiving groups in the NFL, but they’ve added some new faces through free agency in Michael Crabtree, John Brown and Willie Snead IV.

There is no guarantee the passing offense will improve dramatically from last year, when it was ranked No. 29 in the NFL, but it’s worth getting excited about because the team has options.

A two-tight end offense can cause multiple problems for defenses. Crabtree is a possession receiver and a good target inside the red zone, along with Andrews and Hurst.

Starting quarterback Joe Flacco will be better than last season simply because of his professionalism and pride. The addition of Jackson, as well as veteran Robert Griffin III, has already made him better.

Combined with the return of starting guards Marshal Yanda and Alex Lewis, who missed a total of 30 games last season because of injuries, the Ravens have enough talent to be a top 15 offense.

Decent defense should be better: On defense, the Ravens ranked No. 12 overall at the end of last season, allowing 225.1 yards per game. Overall, this group should be better. The Ravens have some outstanding young talent in the secondary with cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young and Maurice Canady.

The run defense was solid for most of last season but seemed to wear down in the final quarter of the year. However, young linemen such as Brent Urban, Willie Henry and Michael Pierce, who have played well at times, should be more consistent.

Still lots of questions: There are still a lot of questions surrounding the Ravens going into 2018 season. There is no certainty that the passing game will click with so many new faces. Can running back Alex Collins duplicate last year’s success? Marty Mornhinweg has been a sound offensive coordinator but doesn’t exude great confidence.

The Ravens still have to find pass rushers to complement Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, but are young players such as Tim Williams and Kamalei Correa ready? Players like new defensive coordinator Don Martindale, but he’s unproven after failing in the same capacity in Denver.

Harbaugh's job on line: The season will be interesting. Coach John Harbaugh’s job is on the line and general manager Ozzie Newsome will be replaced by Eric DeCosta when the season ends. During the past two seasons, the Ravens were only a few plays away from the postseason, but the 2018 schedule is much tougher than a year ago.

Right now, though, Ravens have created a lot of excitement as a result of a strong offseason. That’s all you can ask for at this point.

Now, they’ve got to win.

mike.preston@baltsun.com; twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

 

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