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Byrne Identity: Musings From This Morning's Plane Ride Home


The focus has now changed for the Ravens. We've gone from getting a team ready for the regular season to focusing on the task at hand: beating the Cincinnati Bengals a week from Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium.

Like most of you, we're wondering how good we will be as we aim to make the playoffs for the sixth time in seven years.

I sit with Ozzie Newsome on our team charters. When I become nervous about an upcoming opponent, Oz doesn't try to talk me off the ledge. When I talk about the strengths and the great players an opponent has, Oz will smile, like he did this morning, and say, "We're pretty good, too."

And, we are. We're a good team, and Ozzie didn't have to remind me. I just looked around our charter flight, which landed a little past 3 a.m. Friday morning.

It starts with my seat mate, the "Wizard of Oz." He has been the architect behind all of our successes, which include two Super Bowl victories in this century. A few seats in front of Oz is John Harbaugh, the first head coach in NFL history to go to and win at least one playoff game in each of his first four and five seasons.

Behind Harbs is the new Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak, the former head coach of the Houston Texans who earned that job by being an outstanding play caller and coordinator.

There's Dean Pees, the Ravens' boss on defense who produced the Patriots' best defenses under Bill Belichick when Dean was coordinating at New England. Across the aisle is Jerry Rosburg, the associate head coach long noted for his expertise with special teams. And, there's Secondary/Assistant Head Coach Steve Spagnuolo, the former head coach of the St. Louis Rams.

It's an outstanding coaching staff that always has our players ready for games. A good number of them were watching video of the Bengals on the early AM flight.

Immediately behind us is Joe Flacco, who topped his spectacular playoff run 18 months ago by winning the Super Bowl XLVII MVP award. We think Joe will thrive in Kubiak's offense behind an offensive line that will be much better than last year's. 

The Improved O-Line

Walking down the aisle came Eugene Monroe, the tackle who has settled the left side of our offensive line. And, we haven't heard much this preseason about the right tackle spot, the one that was going to be the "problem child" for our line. The quietly determined Rick Wagner grabbed that starting position and has given every indication that he'll be just fine.

Marshal Yanda walked by shortly after Monroe. The three-time Pro Bowl guard is healthy after having rotator cuff surgery following the Super Bowl. Our other starting guard, Kelechi Osemele, followed Yanda. "K.O." could be our next Pro Bowl standout. He has recovered from last season's back surgery and has been dominant this summer. New center Jeremy Zuttah, impressively smart and mature, walked by, and you could almost sense Oz's pride in acquiring him in a trade this offseason with Tampa Bay.

(How about a shout out to now backup center Gino Gradkowski? He started all last season and could have fallen by the wayside after we acquired Zuttah. Instead, he worked his tail off, provided a tremendous challenge to Jeremy and is one of our most improved players.)

Sitting across from Newsome were veterans Steve Smith, Sr. and Chris Canty. Two mature, tough players who are expected to make serious contributions in 2014. Smith has been a joy to the Ravens since arriving in March. He can play, no doubt. But, his personality has given a lift to the whole team, especially on offense.

I wasn't eavesdropping, but it was fun to listen to Flacco and Dennis Pitta compliment the players who performed for our offense last night. They asked Tyrod Taylor about various throws he made and praised the efforts of young players like Lorenzo Taliaferro, Michael Campanaro, Kamar Aiken and Jeremy Butler.

Behind Joe, Tyrod and Dennis are the elite Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata, the six- and five-time Pro Bowlers, respectively. As I look at these massive talents, I am reminded of what Coach Harbs told the TV production crew prior to the victory over the Saints. "When you have great players like Suggs and Ngata hustling throughout camp, running to the ball on every play, your young players duplicate that hustle. That's leadership you can see every day."

Almost following right behind each other walking down the aisle was the trio of injured corners: Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson. Let's hope each of those guys will be ready for the Bengals. There's a chance, but I'm not going to give any hints to Marvin Lewis and company today.

A little farther back in the cabin were some of the young players who will have dramatic roles for us beginning next week. Matt Elam, a year under his belt, is a much-improved safety. Close by is C.J. Mosley, our No. 1 choice this season. On our return flight from Dallas two weeks ago, Suggs walked by Ozzie and said: "[No.] 57 [Mosley] can play. Good job!" (Near Mosley sat LB Courtney Upshaw who doesn't get enough credit for how important he is to us because so many focus on the sack artists like Suggs and Elvis Dumervil. There are few players in the league who combine the intelligence and toughness that Upshaw displays regularly.)

Seeing all these guys together on our charter made me think of the line Buck Showalter uses often when he talks about the first-place Orioles: "I like our guys."

We like our guys, too. As a team, we're flying a little under the NFL radar right now, even when we were landing at BWI Airport in the middle of the night after a perfect 4-0 preseason. Let the media focus on the Seahawks, Patriots, Broncos, Colts and Saints for now. We'll soon get a chance to show that we're more than a blip.

Suggs Is Entertaining

Sizzle is one of a kind. Along with his immense football prowess, he is a guy with a keen intelligence and comical eye. He misses nothing. Comments on almost everything. He keeps us loose and laughing. After Campanaro had another productive day at a recent practice, catching some passes against the first-team defense, Suggs yelled over to the rookie receiver: "Hey Campanaro, you're going to be a great receiver ... (pause) for the Patriots!"

(New England has had very good success with smaller receivers like Campanaro, including Wes Welker and Julian Edelman.)

Tough days today and tomorrow. We'll go from 75 players to 53. Lots of dreams will die, and hearts will be broken. There will be some tears shed. As Harbs said, "It's the toughest part of what we do. We will release players who gave us their best. It's hard to tell someone that his best wasn't good enough to make our team."

Talk with you next week,


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