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Itâ€™s been a long two months. After the excitement of the NFL Draft in April, I entered into a state of Ravens Fan Hibernation waiting for the OTAs and rookie camps to come and pass. Watched a good bit of the Orioles while I was at it. And now the real thing is here. Iâ€™ve got my eyes on several training camp developments that I think will have a direct effect on the Ravensâ€™ performance this year.
How will the veterans react to a stricter camp regimen? What about sleeping in the hotel for a few weeks, mandatory bed checks, no sleeping or caps pulled low over the eyes during meetings, no retirement to an enclosed practice field when the weather gets too hot or too wet, uniform shirts tucked in, no sitting on the sidelines, in short, no Billick to baby the vets?
It looks like John Harbaugh set the tone to the vets during the OTAs â€“ those that bothered to show up, that is. Now he has to deliver a consistent message throughout camp. The Ravens have more divas than an opera company sometimes, and how he manages the super-sized and often conflicting egos in the locker room will go a long way toward maintaining team chemistry now and down the load.
My Take â€“ John will not back down. Look for some bruised egos this summer.
This competition will dominate the practice field and headlines for the next six weeks. The performance of Boller, Flacco, and Smith will be closely evaluated by the coached staff and almost certainly over-analyzed in the press. My personal favorite is Troy Smith. Troy is a real athlete, has tremendous poise and pocket presence, and has earned the respect of his veteran teammates. If he produces, the starting job is his on September 7th. For reasons Iâ€™ll outline later, I sincerely hope is that Joe Flacco doesnâ€™t see the field under the last quarter of the season.
The Ravens dearly paid for Trevorâ€™s absence last year. The lack of a pass rush pointed up the inadequacies of a secondary that sorely missed Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle. Opposing offenses quickly saw their opening; why rush against the likes of Haloti Ngata and Kelly Gregg when you could pass against the likes of Derrick Martin, Corey Ivy, and David Pittman? Trevorâ€™s return to form will also benefit the Ravens latest rebel against the leagueâ€™s franchise tag â€“ Terrell Suggs. Suggs may think of himself primarily as a rush end, but his 2007 production dropped off considerably when he didnâ€™t have Pryce around to take the heat off the double teams.
The Offensive Line
This is my biggest concern during the preseason. For the most part, every lineman will be playing a different position this year. The interior looks solid with Jason Brown at center and Ben Grubbs and Marshall Yanda at guards. But what about those tackles? Jared Gaither has Jonathan Ogden size, but it remains to be seen if he has J.O.â€™s heart, work ethic, and commitment to excellence. I like Adam Terry a whole lot more at left tackle where he was an acceptable replacement for Ogden. Heâ€™s never impressed me on the right side where he goes against some of the leagueâ€™s top rushers. Not mean enough. Chris Chester has all the looks of a 2nd round bust. Chris Hinton heâ€™s not. Oniel Cousins looks like a real find, nasty and combative, but heâ€™s raw and needs time to develop.
My Take: If Gaither and Terry can consistently produce, the Ravens have the makings of a fine offensive line for the next 10 years. If not, and they have to shuffle the interior line around to compensate for their deficiencies, then all bets are off. Joe Flacco would be better served holding a clip board than getting creamed on a weekly basis.
Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura look to be real head bangers who wonâ€™t back off from anyone. Jim Leonhard and Ronnie Prude have some experience. All can contribute on special teams. Since the Ravens will keep only two backups, who will stay and who will go? This will be an interesting camp battle.
Theatre of the Absurd
This edition of Theatre of the Absurd highlights the Brett Favre ordeal. What else? Unless Terrell Owens overmedicates himself again, this situation is the major soap opera of the preseason. I take SIâ€™s Don Banksâ€™ view on the whole affair (itâ€™s Favreâ€™s fault) and no, I wonâ€™t go into the details. But no one is going to win here. Not Packers management, whose hand will be forced, not Favre, who will never go where he really wants to (courtesy of those multiple cell phone calls), and certainly not the Packer fans.