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Byrne Identity: I'm Just Sayin' ... Some Reasons For Optimism


I'm Just Sayin' … Some Reasons For Optimism

One of the fun parts of this job is to interact with people who really know the game, both from the Ravens and those outside the organization. You hear a lot of information about how our players are performing, the strengths and weaknesses of the team and studied evaluations.

Opinions come from the likes of CBS-TV's Solomon Wilcots, the former NFL safety who is broadcasting our game against the Browns this Sunday. (He also was the CBS analyst for the opener versus the Bengals.) Phil Simms, the former Giants' quarterback and Super Bowl MVP, was here last week preparing for the national telecast of the Steelers' game, and he offered some insights.

National reporters, like a Peter King from Sports Illustrated and Monday Morning Quarterback, regularly visit here and share their points of view about our players and those of coaches and scouts from other teams they visited.

Obviously, I hear from Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh, Eric DeCosta and others here in the building. For example, in the first week of training camp a year ago, Harbs noted to me: "Watch that rookie free agent receiver Marlon Brown. He looks like a player to me." After the first week with our team this spring, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said: "Ozzie got a good one with C.J. [Mosley]. It's going to be hard to keep him off the field."

I'm just sayin' … I hear and see a lot. And, although it's early – really early – in the season, there's music in my ears. We have the makings of a pretty good team.

Following is some of what I've heard (and seen):

I'm Just Sayin'

…Our defense is athletic and fast. Visibly fast. You don't have to be a football savant to see this. And there's more speed coming when Arthur Brown and Terrence Brooks get more playing time later in the season.

…We all see how well Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil are performing, but two linemen attracting attention are starting nose tackle Brandon Williams and DeAngelo Tyson. Williams has been a load to the Bengals' and Steelers' interior line in the first two games. This is a big, athletic man with surprising quickness. Tyson, who recovered the fumble to stop Pittsburgh's opening drive last Thursday, can line up at any of the line positions. Here's a shout out to Defensive Line Coach Clarence Brooks, who is speeding the development of our frontline defenders.

…Speaking of the D-line and Coach Brooks, Chris Canty is playing very well, and wait until second-round selection Timmy Jernigan gets a little more experience. We'd be happy had we taken him in the first round.

…Last year's No. 1 pick, Matt Elam, is a different player from a season ago when he started 15 games as a rookie. He's playing faster, showing leadership and is giving us flexibility at safety and corner.

…Good teams have to continually find special Pro Bowl-type players – guys who can change a game with the plays they make – and here's a prediction on our next Pro Bowl standouts: cornerback Jimmy Smith and guard Kelechi Osemele. Keep an eye on this pair as you watch us in the coming months.

(Again, it's early, but we've allowed just one touchdown in our first two games. That's best in the NFL. Plus, in four red-zone visits by our opponents: NO TOUCHDOWNS!)

I'm Just Sayin'

…Like our defense, our offense is playing faster. What you hear from our players and those who have studied us is that Gary Kubiak runs a system that is very black and white, logical and keeps defenses on edge. Joe Flacco has publicly decreed how much he likes it. It looks like this group can reach higher levels faster than other teams learning a new offense.

…Over the years, Ozzie and his crew have added veterans who bring outstanding play and leadership to the Ravens. Hall of Famers Rod Woodson and Shannon Sharpe come to mind, as do Daryl Smith from a year ago and former Bengals tackle Willie Anderson in 2008. The Wizard has done it again with left tackle Eugene Monroe and center Jeremy Zuttah. These are two highly-intelligent mature men dedicated to being the best they can be and willing to do whatever for the betterment of the team. They are athletes who can run and play fast. They care. Last Sunday, everybody was off, including coaches and players. Yet, there was Monroe in the weight room getting an extra workout.

…There's little talk any more about our weakness at right tackle. Way to go Rick Wagner! He has stepped in and played well. I first heard about Rick from one of our coaches in the 2013 preseason when Wagner was a rookie. "It's not too big for him. He'll develop into a good player." After an injury during our 2013 season opener in Denver, Wagner was forced into action and didn't play well – and he had been living with that reputation – until now.

…How about Justin Forsett? Coach Kubiak told our personnel group last spring: "You guys ought to look at Forsett. He knows this offense and can be effective in it." Thanks Coach. So far, so good. Justin is averaging an impressive 6.6 yards per carry, has nine receptions and has pass blocked well. Bernard Pierce, with his size, speed combination, is also doing well, averaging 4 yards per carry.

…Did I mention Ozzie likes to bring in veteran players from other teams who can produce and lead? Steve Smith Sr. is everything we wanted and more. He's tough, feisty, sure-handed and fun. He fits the Ravens. Right now, Smith Sr. and Dennis Pitta are causing some issues on the inside for defenses, which have been "cheating" to Torrey Smith. WE HAVE WEAPONS. And, maybe the best deep-ball thrower in the league with Joe Flacco. It will be interesting to see if defenses adjust, and Torrey gets some more single coverages and deep-ball opportunities.

…Can't forget Justin Tucker. Another arrow in our attack. He regularly hits touchbacks, not even allowing returns. His accuracy and range for field goals sent him to the Pro Bowl last season. Plus, he, punter Sam Koch and snapper Morgan Cox are relentless in pursuing perfection. They work.

All this being said, other teams are good, too. A lot of us watched the Browns beat the Saints last Sunday. Cleveland is ready for us. They have new-found confidence, their crowd will be raucous, and we will get the Browns' best shot. They beat us in Cleveland last season.

This will be a tough game to win on the shores of Lake Erie. But, something John Harbaugh has said many times since he became our head coach in 2008 rings in my ears: "We are just the men for the job."

Let's beat the Browns.

Talk with you next week,


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