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The Ravens report to camp today at McDaniel College where Brian Billick will address the team around 6 PM and set the tone for the next 3 weeks of camp.  If you want a schedule of the upcoming Ravens events through the season, check out our Events Calendar on the home page.
The team will take the practice field tomorrow and once again expectations are high.  But this time around the vibe is a bit different.  There is a quiet optimism that the team carries as opposed to the in your face swagger that characterized the team in 2004 and 2005.  Sometimes a team needs to be humbled.  Sometimes a team needs to be embarrassed.  Last season, the Ravens experienced humility and shame and that could be a driving positive force as the club heads into the 2006 season.  The marathon begins tomorrow.
Are the high expectations warranted?  After all, the Ravens were a 6-10 team last year and questions still linger about the offensive line and the lack of depth in the secondary.  Ravens officials are banking on a few players to step up their games and they are quick to point out that you can’t have stars at all positions.  Sometimes individual play can be elevated as players come together to fulfill their responsibility in the grand scheme of team play – still another reason why the Ravens front office continually beats the high character drum these days.
Yet even with a productive off season behind them can the team and its fans really expect a return to the playoffs?
History says “Yes!”
Back in 2004, the Pittsburgh Steelers rebounded from a 6-10 season to go 15-1.  In 2003 the 6-10 Steelers finished ninth overall in total defense and they were 22nd in total offense.  During the Ravens 2005 6-10 season, they were ranked fifth in total defense and 24th in total offense.  All the griping about the Ravens secondary and defensive line isn’t really warranted when you look at the big picture.  The 2005 Ravens were a very one dimensional team and despite that, the Ravens were closer to being the second ranked overall defense than they were the sixth.  And every one of the top six ranked defenses except the Ravens made it to the post season dance.
Imagine what the Ravens defense might accomplish with a healthy Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Chris McAlister and Dan Cody.  Imagine what they might do if they played with a lead.
During the last three seasons, the Ravens are 19-5 when they score 20 points or more.  Last year they scored 20 points or more only 3 times while averaging a little more than 16 ½ points per game.
Do you think Steve McNair can at least change that?  Do you think he’s worth 3 ½ points per game to the Ravens?  Even on a weak Titans team last year, McNair averaged nearly 20 ½ points when he started and finished a game.
Sure the Ravens have holes.  But so do the Steelers (sans Randle El, von Oelhoffen and Hope), the Bengals (possibly sans Palmer early in the season) and the Browns (depth at QB).  The first order of business in any season is to win your division.
No one said it would be easy.  It never is.
But thanks to competitive balance or that crazy little thing called parity, the holes that some believe are too many to fill, might not be so bad for the 2006 version of the Baltimore Ravens.
Just ask the 2004 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Speaking of the Steelers, Troy Polamalu and his agent have to like what they see in the contracts of Ed Reed and now rookie Raiders’ safety Michael Huff.  First-round pick Michael Huff signed a $22.5 million, five-year contract with the Oakland Raiders on Tuesday that guarantees the safety $15 million.  Reed’s guaranteed money is roughly the same as Huff’s although if Reed plays through to the end of his extension, he’ll pull in more than $40 million.  With that kind of dough, Polamalu just might be able to afford a haircut.
Or might that mess with his mojo?
While we’re on the subject of contracts, the Ravens are optimistic that Haloti Ngata will be signed soon although they are non-committal as to exactly when.  The signing could happen as early as today or a few days after the start of camp.  One Ravens source seemed unfazed by the absence of Ngata’s John Hancock which could indicate that the Ravens line in the sand has been drawn.
The Browns recently signed the No. 13 pick Kamerion Wimbley to a 6 year deal that includes a $9.3 million signing bonus, representing a 9.5% increase over the 13th pick last year.  One would think that the unofficial slotting system would dictate Ngata’s terms at this point yet now is the time when player agents try to justify their existence and craft voidables, incentives, etc into contracts in order to be judged favorably by future potential clients.
For what it’s worth, a source close to 24×7 who wishes to remain anonymous has informed us that Ngata’s aunt and uncle are in town with him as of this writing.  Let’s hope there’s some writing on the bottom line soon.
Here’s a bottom line that could bottom out: "It’s ludicrous for anybody to feel that these actions, or anything, taint, or have any negative approach on the core or mentality of our football team."  These are the words of Bengals’ owner Mike Brown when responding to criticisms of the team’s willingness to take on so many players of questionable character.

Hey Mike, it’s ludicrous to think that it won’t.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is the founder EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com. His work has been featured on various sports websites and he hosts The Russell Street Report and Armchair Quarterback both seen and heard on Fanimal Radio. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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