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I’m Just Sayin’:
Feel a need for a dose of optimism right now.
This is not a fun time of year for us or Ravens fans. We’re in the annual four-to-five-week span when we aren’t doing “real football.” Except for a few players, the weight room is quiet. Coaches and scouts are on vacation. And the news of the moment is not about who looks good, who is improved or who looks like they might have taken a step back. Instead, football news around the league is about contracts. What are the Saints going to do with Drew Brees? The Bears with Matt Forte? The Ravens with Ray Rice and Joe Flacco? What is Ed Reed saying? These are all legitimate concerns that will be addressed. Our history is pretty good at getting issues resolved so that our team can focus on the most obvious task at hand: being the best NFL team we can be. And, the Ravens have been pretty good recently, and we expect to be again.
Even those of us who work at the Ravens sometimes have to be reminded that we’re “pretty good” at this time of the year. Without much news happening, media spend more time “evaluating” your team. Locally, the news of the day is usually not encouraging or optimistic. Our national exposure from various “experts” helps. The NFL Network recently completed its list of the 100 best players in the league from 2011, as voted on by the players in the middle of last season. We tied (with the 49ers and Eagles) for the most players on the list with seven. How about that? Seven of our 22 starters are considered among the best in the league as voted by the guys having to face these Ravens. Think about the math. It’s impressive. Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Reed, Ray Lewis, Rice, Vonta Leach and Flacco –wow, what a group! And, how about our guys not on the list? How many teams in the league would love to have Marshal Yanda, Torrey Smith, our pair of tight ends – Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta – Pro Bowlers like Matt Birk, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Anquan Boldin, along with Bernard Pollard. Then you get to our rising stars like Jameel McClain, Michael Oher, Lardarius Webb, Terrence Cody, Cary Williams, Jimmy Smith (and I believe Jimmy is going to be big-time good). … I could go on. And, I love when I get to introduce John Harbaugh: “Here’s our historically-good head coach. In the history of the NFL, he is the only head coach ever to go to and win a playoff game in each of his first four seasons.” Certainly we have challenges and weaknesses, but, yes, we’re pretty good.
I’m just sayin’…
Watch our special teams this season. I think that’s where we’ll see the biggest improvement. Start off with punter Sam Koch, a runner-up to the Pro Bowl each of the last two seasons, and kicker Billy Cundiff. Yeah, I know. He has to recover from the missed kick in New England. I think he will. It was his only fourth-quarter miss in the last two seasons (16 of 17 in the final periods during this time). We won’t know – he won’t know – until he’s tested. But, the veteran kickers who were available to sign with teams this offseason know something, too. None wanted to come compete against Billy, who was the AFC’s Pro Bowl kicker in 2010. (And, we certainly invited some of those veterans to come and compete against him.) The signing of wide receiver/return specialistJacoby Jones will help, as will other free agents we added: cornerback Corey Graham and safetySean Considine, two of the NFL’s proven special teams stalwarts.
And, can I say something about the offensive line? First, I love the way Coach Harbaugh and his staff give every player invited to camp the opportunity to become a starter. When all is said and done, our five best offensive linemen will start. Unless we’re all stunned, three of those guys are going to be Yanda, Oher and Birk. But, that trio is not guaranteed. They know that. They’re driven to be the best, and I think they’ll prove it again. We’ve added Bobbie Williams, a monstrous veteran guard who always gave us fits when we played the Bengals. Ask Lewis which NFL guard got his hands on Ray more often than any he has faced in the last 10 years. AskNgata which guard gave him the most issues. Williams’ name would be in both answers. Bryant McKinnie has been challenged. He’s responding. Jah Reid is knocking on the door. Now, it’s difficult for a rookie lineman to start in the NFL, but a lot of our guys did and played very well – like Oher, Yanda, McKinnie and Williams. I can’t say too much without getting Harbs and Ozzie Newsome after me, but there’s a lot of buzz in our building about second-round pick Kelechi Osemele and fourth-rounder Gino Gradkowski. We haven’t played “real” football yet, but both Kelechi and Gino have commanded attention. Watch those two rookies in the preseason games. Believe you will like what you see. I can already sense that local media is going to focus on our O-line in the preseason. Some will call the line “the Ravens’ weakness.” I think those critics will be proven wrong.
Among a core group of players who have been working out in our Under Armour Performance Center since early February is Terrence Cody. He, along with guys like Torrey Smith, David Reed, Arthur Jones and Lardarius Webb, have been here a lot, even in recent weeks. The coaches and scouts are gone during this time. So, when Cody arrived early last Monday morning for a workout, he took the parking spot closest to the players’ entrance – the space assigned to John Harbaugh. A half hour later, Harbs and his wife, Ingrid, arrived to work out in the weight room. With a near-vacant lot, John thought nothing of his spot being taken and grabbed the next closest to the building. Craig Singleterry, a former Baltimore City police officer who is now part of the Ravens’ security staff, tracked down Coach Harbaugh and prodded John to fake being angry about Cody taking his parking spot. Craig found big Terrence in the locker room and told him: “You better move your car. Coach is here, and he is ANGRY.” With that introduction, Harbs came around the corner and shouted: “Who’s in my parking spot. That guy’s in trouble.” Cody meekly raised his hand and started apologizing profusely until Craig and John started laughing. (I have a feeling Terrence will find a way to get back at Craig soon.)
Only 12 days before rookies, quarterbacks and injured players from last season report to camp. We’re almost there. Can’t wait!