In a recent Baltimore Sun article Columnist Mike Preston outlined 10 key issues facing the Baltimore Ravens as they open training camp. It was a well-written photo piece, thankfully devoid of the personal animus Preston sometimes brings to his writing. The first slide, called “The John Harbaugh Factor,” immediately caught my eye.
Preston wrote that, in spite of the fine job Harbaugh has done over the past five years as head coach, it was perceived in some circles that it was Ray Lewis who really ran things in locker room. In fact, when Lewis announced his retirement late last season, Preston wrote that one AFC head coach said “Now, we’ll find out if little Johnny can coach.”
The unnamed AFC coach can be as snarky as he wants, but I’ve heard and read nothing but positive comments about the job John Harbaugh did last year. Just last week Pete Prisco, the respected NFL columnist for CBS Sports, ranked Harbs third in his NFL coach’s rankings, writing that his coaching last year exceeded the talent on the field and citing his five consecutive years of making the playoffs.
Prisco is spot-on. Putting the Super Bowl afterglow aside, let’s remember that the Ravens went through some major turmoil last year. There were significant injuries to Terrell Suggs and Lardarius Webb, a beat up Haloti Ngata, the replacement of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron late in the season (positive though it was), constant turnover on the offensive line, an inconsistent Joe Flacco, and a defense that was getting old and slow. And I’m sure I’m forgetting other challenges the Ravens faced.
Harbaugh and his staff dealt with all of that, plus losing four of their last five games entering the playoffs. But he and his staff never lost their focus.
His demeanor during the playoffs and particularly the run up to the Super Bowl was respectful, informative, and engaging.
Unlike his brother Jim, who was wrapped so tight during the interviews the two of them did with the media that I thought he was going uncoil and spring off the stage like Spiderman.
Now about that nickname….
What unnamed AFC coach would call Harbs “Little Johnny” to a member of the media? Bill Belichick? Marvin Lewis? Mike Tomlin? John Fox? None of the above.
My bet is on Mr. Foot Fetish himself, the Rexinator. Only Rex Ryan would talk to the media in such a dismissive tone about a fellow coach, one who, not incidentally, was selected over Ryan to become the Ravens head coach. I guess Rex better get his licks in now, because this time next year he’ll be unemployed.
What is Vonta Leach waiting for?
The offers from other teams are not going to get any better and if he’s playing the late to training camp game, the Ravens might pull what is a very fine offer to play a disappearing position right off the table.
Players on My Bubble
At the start of camp these two veterans stand out – Jameel McClain and Terrence Cody. The Ravens will be extremely careful with McClain’s spinal cord injury and I would not rule out an injury settlement if things do not sufficiently improve as training camp progresses. They want that spine squeaky clean and I don’t blame them. Cody is coming off an injury, is still carrying baby fat and, as another blogger put it, is a “bad athlete.” He got pushed around far too much last year. I look for rookie Brandon Williams to take his place in the defensive line rotation and for Cody to wind up on the waiver wire.
Position to Worry About
I’m on board with all the changes the Ravens made this year except for Anquan Boldin’s slot as the Number two wide out. I’ve read all the comments and the rationale for essentially cutting the wide receiver who was Joe Flacco’s go-to guy during the playoffs. This fan still doesn’t get it. People can talk all they want about Jacoby Jones (who just inexplicably failed a conditioning test), Tandon Doss, David Reed, and Deonte Thompson. None of them have proven to me they can consistently catch the ball in traffic, run routes, get separation, and fight defense backs for the ball. Until one of them – or an as-yet-unsigned veteran – steps up and proves it to me, I’m still on the fence with this one.
Training Camp – Bring it on!