Look, one of the best things about the professional sports business is that we regularly get to prove how good we are. We do this a game at a time, especially in the NFL. And, we do it season by season.
Not many businesses have this privilege. Most of you have to wait longer times to see your success or failure.
When we're not playing games, we sell hope. At least, that's what Art Modell used to call it. The offseason is filled with hope for fans who bask in the joy that comes from believing the Ravens know what they're doing. And, it's target shooting for the critics who think that 5-11 is the start of a long demise that won't be fixed with some tweaking, healthy players and new blood.
That makes sports fun. Yin and yang.
You think we'll rebound. You have a friend or relative who believes otherwise. Those conversations build bonds – mostly. Although, we do realize there could be a higher passion that can be the base of some nasty disagreements.
Clearly there are those who don't think the Ravens will rebound this season. We read it. We hear it. That doesn't drive what we do, but it does add to an edge needed to be a playoff contender.
There are those who look at the 2015 season and acknowledge that it was unusual in a number of ways. Injuries were a factor (20 players on injured reserve, including eight starters). Scheduling hurt a little (five of the first seven games were on the road, including four out West). And, we played in an NFL-record 14 games decided by one touchdown or less. … And, we didn't win enough of those.
One reporter who might know us better than any other is ESPN's Jamison Hensley. He covered us daily for years as a *Baltimore Sun *reporter and now does the same for ESPN. He was asked last week which team would win the AFC North and how many from the division would earn the playoffs. Hensley wrote:
"The Steelers will win. … And the Ravens will rebound to make the playoffs. … The Ravens haven't generated much offseason buzz because most of their star players are injured. But Baltimore addressed two of the biggest areas of concern in the offseason, adding a leader in the secondary with Eric Weddle and a deep threat with Mike Wallace. … The Bengals will miss out of the playoffs for the first time since 2010."
(By the way, Jamison is pretty good at dissecting the Ravens. He has been uncanny with his game-by-game predictions through the years. I'm a wreck for every game and always get some relief when I see Hensley has predicted victory. He's usually right.)
So, will we contend? Or, will we be an also ran come December? That's what we're all talking about right now. I'm asked, "How good will you guys be?" all the time. By media, both local and national, friends and relatives. And, here's the admission: I'm not sure. … And I'm always sure – and, frankly, I'm better at predicting than even Hensley. (Lots of inside knowledge helps.)
Last season made me gun shy. All those bad things that happened to us, and that includes losing some of those close games early in the season when we were at least pretty healthy on offense, stole some confidence.
I think we'll be good, maybe even very good. We have a lot of parts that helped place us in an elite group: one of only five teams – Green Bay (7), New England (7), Cincinnati (6) and Indianapolis (6) – to earn the playoffs in at least six of the last eight seasons. That brain trust is still here: Steve Bisciotti, Ozzie Newsome, Dick Cass, John Harbaugh and more. Big-time players like Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Steve Smith Sr., Marshal Yanda, Elvis Dumervil, Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith – you get the picture – roam the building.
Look For The Bounce Back
I am encouraged by what I see and hear:
- The video last week of Steve Smith Sr. sprinting made me smile.
- Terrell Suggs has been pounding in the weight room and running hard in our indoor field for some time. … And his smile and entertaining swagger are back.
- Somebody please let Joe Flacco go out and play with his teammates. He is chomping at the bit. He appears very ready.
- Dennis Pitta – one offensive coach said during mandatory minicamp in mid-June: "He's really good."
- Love the new vets. Eric Weddle, Benjamin Watson, Mike Wallace, Jerraud Powers. It has been only touch football, but they are impressive. They like football, all that comes with it, and will definitely make a difference for us.
- Help from this 2016 NFL Draft: Ronnie Stanley has been running with the first team since his first day. Big, long, great feet, smart, hard working – the makings of a special player. I'm fascinated by second rounder Kamalei Correa. He brings energy, size and speed, and I can see Dean Pees finding a lot of ways to get him on the field.
- And, we've only seen it in practice – and not very much practice – but what if Breshad Perriman gives us what we thought when we drafted him with our No. 1 pick a year ago? Oh boy…
- Good health for key veterans like Pro Bowler Justin Forsett and center Jeremy Zuttah – a second season with Marc Trestman at the offensive coordinator. It's all good.
- And there's Harbs. John Harbaugh is historically good, and he is relentless. He will have the team ready. We will be prepared to win. We will play with a physicality that is hard to match. We will play with intelligence.
I could go on, but then I sound too much like the PR guy I am.
I am not sure how good we can be. I WAS shook by what happened last season. We need a lot of players – very good players, some older – to come back in good health and play at a high level. I am a huge believer in "You are what your record says you are." That means we are the 5-11 Ravens until we prove otherwise.
But, man, I'm excited. Curious. Encouraged. Admittedly, a little less confident than I am normally about my gut feel for our team. But hey, it's time to start finding out about who we are. We're on the eve of training camp. Bring it on!
We're a little under the radar. That's good. (We kind of like it that way.) Let's surprise the critics. Celebrate with the believers and have fun with the 2016 Ravens.
Talk with you next week,