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Byrne Identity: Why Preseason Is Important

Posted Aug 9, 2013

Players who made statements in Tampa, and some insider details on Jim Brown at the Hall of Fame.

Why The Preseason Is So Important

We – the Ravens and the NFL – do not do a good job of telling you why preseason games are important. Most fans don't like them as much because the players you know best, the common names we cheer, aren't playing that much.

We saw some of Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Torrey Smith, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil last night in Tampa. But, we saw a lot more of guys named Elam, Brown, Doss, Thompson and Taylor.

For many fans – not so exciting.

For coaches and the personnel staff of the Ravens – football heaven.

You can only find out so much in practice. What really counts is what a player does in real football action. That's why some of the most passionate, all-out effort you'll ever see on a football field happens in the preseason. Players are basically fighting for their livelihood. Play well, and you make the team, get paid, and life is good for the moment. Play not so well, and you're out on the street.

A 10-year veteran like Daryl Smith has to show the Ravens he can start for us at inside linebacker, while second-round pick Arthur Brown has to justify his draft selection and prove he can do at this level what he did so spectacularly at Kansas State.

"You have a sense of what they'll do in the games, but you have to see it. Last night was a real test to see who still has it and, for the young guys, to see if they can do it at this level. It's a chance to see where we are, to see where we stand and how far we have to go," John Harbaugh said.

Who leaped out last night? Was there another Jameel McClain or Bart Scott, rookie free agents who caught our eye and became starters and stars? That's what coaches and scouts study. That's why they love these preseason games.

(One way we could make the games more exciting for fans is to give you a list of players who need to step up, or young guys who could be the next one to come out of nowhere to help us win. But, coaches and scouts won't do this. We're too paranoid to share that information with other teams.)

That said, here are a few players who made early statements to claim a spot on the 2013 Ravens:  

  • How about Baltimore's LaQuan Williams (Poly High School), who scored two touchdowns, one on a blocked punt in the end zone and the other on a pretty 21-yard catch for a touchdown. "There's a lot to like about LaQuan," Coach Harbaugh said after the game. "He puts on a blue work shirt, brings his lunch pail and just gets after it day after day.
  • Linebacker Adrian Hamilton, second-year player from Prairie View A&M, had a sack, a couple of other quarterback hits and a special teams tackle.
  • And two more "locals" got some attention. Maryland tight end Matt Furstenburg made a difficult 24-yard catch for a first down, while Gilman School's Brandon Copeland, a former defensive lineman trying to be an NFL linebacker, stole an interception and had a special teams tackle.

Ogden And The Hall Of Fame

How cool was it last Saturday when Jonathan Ogden stood in front of the sports world in his new gold jacket as the first full-time Raven in the Pro Football Hall of Fame? Could he have represented us and the community any better? Man, his speech hit all the right notes, and he showed everyone the intelligent, polished man he is.

Almost 120 Hall of Famers returned for this 50th anniversary of the Hall opening. When they paraded all of these greats in front of us last Friday, it was like watching a history of your life walking in front of you. Another thing that stood out: in their world of mostly big men, Jonathan stood out. Even with the biggest of them all – like Joe Greene, Bob St. Clair, Jack Youngblood and Lawrence Taylor – Jon stood above the crowd. "J.O." is one big human.

Artie Donovan, the first full-time Baltimore Colt, entered the Hall 45 years ago to the day that Jon earned his distinction. So sad that Artie passed away the next night. Donovan was continually gracious to the Ravens, and it was always fun when he visited our facility.

Donovan and Art Modell enjoyed each other's company. The two would share belly laughs whenever they were together. At one charity event, Mr. Modell was reminded that Artie once dated Art's wife Pat Breslin Modell. Art feigned disbelief: "Him?" Modell claimed. Donovan responded: "I was much better looking then." Art retorted: "I hope so." 

Jim Brown

Steve Bisciotti, Dick Cass and I gave Jim Brown, believed by many to be the greatest player in the history of the game, a ride back to his hotel last Saturday afternoon. Steve revealed afterward that Brown was his favorite player when he was a kid. "Johnny Unitas eventually became my favorite, but before I fell in love with the Colts, Brown was the man."   

My good fortune is that I worked four years with Brown when we both were employed with the Cleveland Browns in the early '90s. I once reminded Brown of a mid-1960s magazine article that claimed he was the greatest athlete in the world at that time. The reporter wrote that Brown was the greatest football player ever and that he could have been Muhammad Ali or Oscar Robertson if he had chosen to box or play basketball instead of football. The author also claimed that Jim was the greatest lacrosse player of all time.

Brown told me then that he thought he could have been a pretty good boxer, but that he had sparred with Ali and thought Muhammad had "quicker hands than me." He had played pick-up basketball with Robertson, "And he was bigger than me, and I'm not sure I could have been as good as the 'Big O,'" Brown explained.

"But, I was the best lacrosse player ever. They changed the rules (cupping the ball against your body) because of me," Brown explained. "Did you ever see a lacrosse game?" Jim asked me. "No." (At that time, I hadn't). "Well," Brown continued, "it's played by guys like you. Little white guys who think they're tough. I was bigger and tougher, and they all bounced off of me." I laughed and so did he. (Of course, lacrosse is much different today with bigger and better athletes of all colors.)

No Popeyes For Big Mac

On our road trips, rookies are required to buy Popeyes Chicken for the veterans on the team. Rookie Furstenburg served a plate to fellow tight end Visanthe Shiancoe on our flight down to Tampa on Wednesday. Shiancoe, who was not with the Ravens at the start of training camp and was seated next to Bryant McKinnie, politely turned down the food and said: "Maybe 'Big Mac' wants it."

"You're kidding me, aren't you?" McKinnie said as he stared at Visanthe.

Talk with you next week,

Kevin

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