The Baltimore Ravens had a convenient excuse for their disappointing 5-11 record in 2015.
Baltimore placed 20 players on injured reserve while stumbling through its worst season in eight years under John Harbaugh. The wounded included quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Justin Forsett, wide receiver Steve Smith and linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Flacco and Forsett are expected to be in uniform next week for the first full-squad training camp workout. Smith and Suggs are coming off injuries to their Achilles tendons and hope to be ready for the season opener on Sept. 11 against Rex Ryan and the Buffalo Bills.
Harbaugh liked what he saw in minicamp, but knows the true identity of his team will be revealed once the pads come on.
"We found out we have a lot of smart young players that can learn really quickly, and that's a good thing to know," he said. "We will take the next step in training camp."
The Ravens are in bounce-back mode, which should create some interesting duels for starting roles and roster spots.
"There is a sense of urgency, because there really is no way of knowing right now who is going to be on the final roster of offensive players," said Marc Trestman, entering his second season as Harbaugh's offensive coordinator.
Flacco will take it easy this summer in his return from knee surgery. He will have a variety of new targets to choose from, including free agent additions Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson.
"It's big time to have them," Flacco said. "I can't wait to get out there with them."
Some things to know about the Ravens as they enter training camp:
HOLD OFF ON THAT GOLD WATCH: Smith intended to retire following the 2015 season, but his devastating injury in Week 8 caused him to do an about-face.
He needs 39 receptions to reach 1,000 for his career, and that was a factor in his decision to return.
"I may catch that in my uniform, get in my car and go home," he said with a wry grin during minicamp.
Smith didn't show his age last year, catching 46 passes for 670 yards and three TDs. Now he's back for more.
"I think the last challenge that I really have is to be 37 years old, have an opportunity to play in the black and blue division (AFC North) -- very tough, very physical -- and I get an opportunity to experience it for hopefully more than 17 weeks," he said.
SAFETY FIRST: The addition of free agent safety Eric Weddle, the repositioning of Lardarius Webb and the return of injured Matt Elam greatly enhances the back end of the Baltimore defense.
Weddle comes to the Ravens after a solid run with San Diego. He brings sure tackling, ball-hawking ability and leadership. Webb moves from cornerback to free safety, and Elam hopes to rebound after missing the entire 2015 season with a torn biceps.
"I really think that Eric has added a lot to us, and that's a great spot for Webbie," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "And Matt Elam has had a great minicamp."
GETTING THEIR KICKS: By signing Justin Tucker to a four-year contract, the Ravens kept intact one of the finest kicking games in the NFL.
Tucker's 87.8 percent field goal accuracy ranks second in league history, punter Sam Koch made the Pro Bowl last year, and long snapper Morgan Cox has been nearly flawless since signing as a rookie free agent in 2010.
REYNOLDS WRAP: Former Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds has received more scrutiny and acclaim than any sixth-round draft pick in Ravens history.
Reynolds set an NCAA FBS record for career touchdowns with the Midshipmen, but with Baltimore he's trying to make the team as a kick returner and backup receiver.
"He's a natural athlete. He has natural hands, which is a big plus," Harbaugh said. "He's a guy that has a lot of work to do, but he has the ability to pull it off."
TOP PICK: The Ravens used the sixth overall pick to take offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley out of Notre Dame, and they don't intend to wait for him to mature.
Baltimore cut left tackle Eugene Monroe during minicamp. Stanley has been told that the role is his if he can immediately make the transition from college to pros.
"It's going to be up to him to earn the job, win the job and be ready to go," Harbaugh said.