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I don’t recall ever feeling this anxious about an exhibition game. Oh, check that – a preseason game. An exhibition is a demonstration. If tonight’s game was a demonstration, we wouldn’t be charged full price now would we?
No wonder they changed the vernacular!
Ok, back to my point.
Watching the team practice each day out at McDaniel College can grow a bit monotonous and a bit boring. One day might not look much different than the next and that’s just from an observer’s perspective. The players are champing at the bit to compete. That’s how they are built. All of this half speed, ¾ speed, stopping at the quarterback and pulling up on tackles goes right out the window – at least for tonight.
As passionate fans we too are competitors and we suffered through a wretched and underachieving 2005. Like the players on the team, we can’t wait to exorcise those 2005 demons. We can’t wait to cleanse our palates of the bitter taste of last season and those undesirable flavors of divisiveness, discord, acrimony and losing.
It’s been a long, long eight months and as fans we’ve worn the labels of 6-10 losers while our archrival wears one that says World Champion. The Ravens boasted and gave us hope this time last season. Brian Billick said that the 2005 roster was his finest since he arrived in Baltimore. Yet the team took that hope and slaughtered it and since we’ve all done our time. We all were sentenced to 8 months in fan jail.
Tonight that sentence ends as the Ravens continue their quest to restore their collective pride and dignity and make 2005 a distant image in the rearview mirror.
We feel the anxiety as do the players and as a result, there will be mistakes resulting from overzealousness. Even the calm and cool cat that now stands behind center for the Baltimore Ravens admits that there’s a little hot adrenalin flowing through those usually icy veins.
“I’m very excited…very excited”, said Steve McNair. “It’s my first debut in a live game with the Ravens and I’m excited and a little nervous. That’s part of it but at the same time, I’ve been doing this a long time.”
When I heard McNair speak these words in the 5 seconds he took to utter them, he summarized my feelings as a fan – excited but nervous. Most of you likely share those feelings.
We are excited because the Ravens have had a very good offseason while addressing several of the team’s weaknesses. Steve McNair, a healthy Jamal Lewis and Dan Cody, a seemingly reinvigorated Ray Lewis and No. 1 pick Haloti Ngata are just a few of the reasons to get excited about the 2006 edition of the Baltimore Ravens.
Yet nervousness lingers and its origin almost always seems to come back to the offensive line. I’ve spoken to several members of that unit and I get a sense that there’s a collective chip on their shoulder. They have been criticized often and justly so. Let’s face it they stunk up the joint last season.
You know it, I know it and most importantly they know it. They were embarrassed and whenever someone with an inkling of pride is embarrassed, they become determined to change it. So far the signs are good and the biggest beneficiary of improved offensive line play has taken note:
“I think our offensive line is doing a magnificent job with all of the protections”, explained McNair. “They protected well in the scrimmage and they were stout. That’s what we are looking for and as long as we can do that, we have a great chance to move the ball in the running game and in the passing game because it all starts with those guys. With the chemistry that they have and the togetherness that they have shown in the past two weeks is great.”
The live bullets will be flying tonight and we’ll all be watching. McNair’s best seasons as a Titan were accompanied by a solid running game. The two work hand in hand and as he correctly points out, it all starts up front in the trenches. It might not be pretty tonight but it has to be a start – it has to be a foundation to build upon. All of the offseason conditioning, the corrective surgeries, the togetherness and chemistry mean nothing if the Ravens offensive line cannot perform.
And while tonight’s game is not an end all be all, it needs to be the start of a turnaround for the offensive line. They need some momentum. It will validate their offseason work. Without it the seeds of doubt may begin to take root. And if that happens the air in our collective bubble could escape quickly.
Preseason game, exhibition game, demonstration – call it what you will but if the offensive line doesn’t demonstrate improvement tonight, the angst will jam those sports talk phone lines this weekend.
It’s true that this game won’t count in the standings but it will shed light on where the Ravens offensive line stands heading into the new season. Just ask Steve McNair.
“The first preseason game is always the most important. You want to go out there and have a good showing. You worry about the execution and how crisp and sharp you are and to see how far [along] in training camp you are.”
Tonight should be anything but monotonous or boring.