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Ravens preparing for NFL's 4th-toughest schedule

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP)

The Baltimore Ravens will face a demanding schedule when they begin defense of their AFC North division title this fall - including eight games against playoff teams from last season.

The Ravens' schedule is statistically the fourth-toughest in the league as their opponents had a combined record of 134-122 last season, a .523 winning percentage.

And the Ravens face 11 quarterbacks who have been named to at least one Pro Bowl. They square off with the Manning brothers, Peyton and Eli, in consecutive December games.

''It's a tough schedule, but it's a schedule for the Baltimore Ravens,'' said cornerback Lardarius Webb, who signed a $50 million contract this month. ''It's a schedule they always give us because they know that we can take that schedule. We're ready for it. It makes us work a little harder.''

The Ravens open the season by playing four games in 17 days with contests against the Cincinnati Bengals, Philadelphia Eagles, New England Patriots and the Cleveland Browns.

And the Ravens and the San Francisco 49ers are the lone teams to play both Super Bowl teams from last season: the champion New York Giants and the Patriots.

''Every Sunday is tough,'' offensive tackle Michael Oher said. ''You're going to have to come out the same way every Sunday, so get ready for your opponent.''

Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have made the playoffs for four consecutive years and have reached the AFC title game twice. They're the lone NFL team to win a playoff game each of the past four seasons.

The NFL's third-ranked defense from a year ago will need to have another strong campaign while breaking in a new starter in outside linebacker Paul Kruger, the top candidate to replace Jarret Johnson. The Ravens also have Arthur Jones and Pernell McPhee competing at defensive end to replace Cory Redding, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts.

''It's a great opportunity for me,'' said Kruger, a former second-round draft pick who recorded 5 1/2 sacks last season as a situational pass rusher. ''I couldn't ask to be in a better situation, so I'm going to be grinding as much as I can from here until August to prepare myself for camp as much as possible. I'm real excited.''

Johnson, one of the most durable players in franchise history, signed a four-year, $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers.

Before Johnson left, he imparted some of his knowledge of the game to Kruger.

''He taught me a number of things, mainly just how to be a student of the game and how to make yourself better in the classroom,'' Kruger said. ''So, that's one thing that I'm going to take from him for sure. My main focus this offseason, is just grasping everything, understanding the defense through and through.''

The Ravens also will have a new left offensive guard as Pro Bowl guard Ben Grubbs signed a $36 million contract with the New Orleans Saints during free agency.

Jah Reid, a third-round draft pick last year who played sparingly as a rookie, has shifted from offensive tackle and is now ranked first on the depth chart at left guard.

''They told me to expect to be a starter, work to be a starter, expect to come in and play and work hard,'' Reid said. ''That's what I've been doing.''

Notes: The Ravens have signed former Indianapolis Colts quarterback Curtis Painter to a one-year deal. Painter, former Baltimore starting quarterback Kyle Boller and former Pittsburgh backup Dennis Dixon all worked out for the team on Thursday.

Tagged: Colts, Saints, Ravens, Chargers, Jarret Johnson, Paul Kruger

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