During the 2014 offseason the Ravens suffered through 5 player arrests beginning with Ray Rice on February 15 and ending with Jimmy Smith on July 12 just prior to the start of training camp. It was an offseason the team would like to forget. They also hope to never repeat the embarrassment.
The summer months just prior to training camp are particularly nerve wracking for any NFL organization and it’s during that time that they hope, insofar as the law is concerned, that they only hear the sound of silence.
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When the Ravens consider new players for their roster, whether they are free agents or they are players emerging from the college ranks via the NFL Draft, character, whether good or bad is always an issue.
And during this time of year, character or lack thereof, always seems to rear its sometimes-ugly head.
This stretch of 4-5 weeks between the last set of organized team activities and the first reporting day of training camp (unofficially labeled “The Dead Zone”) can leave head coaches and front office personnel a tad on the edgy side. Might they wake up to find one of their own guys listed on the police blotter?
Why can’t these guys stay out of trouble?
Don’t they know what’s at stake for their careers? For their teams?
Are they really that stupid?
These of course are the knee-jerk reactions of many fans who absorb these kinds of headlines never having walked in the shoes of these athletes.
So are such criticisms fair?
Imagine for a moment that you are an athlete, coddled since your days as an adolescent. You cruise through high school aided in part by a system that rewards superior athleticism and a community that exults your achievements on the field.
You get to the next level and now your skill set can be converted into dollars for the university. The coddling intensifies and the perks expand. YOU are Teflon!
You move on to the NFL and the money comes in, you buy everything. The guys you hung with back in high school and college come calling. Perhaps they had your back during those days on some level and now you feel obligated to pay back.
And so you do.
One party leads to the next and the more you are exposed to the after midnight crowd the greater are your chances for a fall from grace.
Young athletes loaded with ambition, opportunistic “friends”, testosterone and fat wallets are asked to relax, to chill. It’s a collision course averted only by the depth of your character.
So all the questioning the Ravens do during the combines and player visits prior to the draft; all of the connectivity to other coaches and scouts who assess player development after the draft; all of the analysis of varying personality types and how they interact together; all of the influence of locker room leaders; all of the scrutiny and background checks to learn how players have dealt with adversity and the decisions they made.
It all comes to a head during the next few weeks.
And for those coaches who hope for the best, they hope for the sound of silence, for silence is golden.