Hey, It's Football Season – Weather and All
On Wednesday, the windows of my office were vibrating from the music blaring from the football fields below.
First, it was the big voice of Aloe Blacc singing "The Man." That got my attention.
Next came the distinctive rowdiness of "I'm Shipping Up to Boston" from the Dropkick Murphys. That brought me out of the desk chair and over to the window. And, what to my wandering eyes did appear? 87 Baltimore Ravens practicing with enthusiasm!
How good is that for May 28?
It was hot and humid. It looked a lot like training camp. Smelled like it too! But players were not wearing pads, only helmets.
It's the "Organized Team Activities (OTAs)" time of the offseason program. No hitting, no one-on-one drills, lots of teaching, and about the highest level of touch football you can see. And, typical of the John Harbaugh Era, everything is geared to getting ready for real games.
The blaring music? It gets the players accustomed to the loud noise at NFL stadiums. Doesn't matter that it's the first almost real practice of 2014. Get ready for the din. The music roars for both offense and defense, giving both units communication challenges over the clamour.
The football gods helped – the big heat on Wednesday gave a peek of training camp and early-season-game weather. Yesterday, it was cooler and raining – just like we might see in a late October or early November game. (My favorite weatherperson, WBAL-TV's Tom Tasselmyer, told all of us last night that yesterday's high of 56 degrees was the lowest-ever high temperature in Baltimore for a May 29.)
To get your juices going, here are some of things I saw over the last two days:
- Receiver Steve Smith, Sr. is uncanny. He flies around, and his hands are remarkable. He snatches any pass near him. You can see why he has had such huge success. He attacks the ball. Combine Anquan Boldin's hands and Derrick Mason's quickness, and I think you might have Steve Smith, Sr.
- We will have a productive running game. Gary Kubiak stresses a decisive, explosive, downhill ground attack. It's precise, and you can already see why his offenses have always run the ball well – no matter who is carrying the ball.
- And, dare I say, Ray Rice looks sleek and fast. (Rice told me he weighs 208, which is close to the weight he was as a rookie in 2008.) Ray loves his first look at the Kubiak offense.
- No.1 choice C.J. Mosley, lining up at inside linebacker, looks like he has been a Raven for a lot longer than a few weeks. He has the countenance of a long-time veteran. He calls defensive signals with confidence. ... And, he can run. He's going to be fun to watch over the years.
- Safety Matt Elam, last season's No. 1 choice and a full-time starter as a rookie, is clearly more comfortable and vocal. We like to acquire players who like football. Elam, clearly, loves the game.
- You might have heard – our offensive line didn't play very well last season. Not discussed as often were the injuries to starting guards Marshal Yanda, the three-time Pro Bowler, and Kelechi Osemele, a guy we think can eventually be a Pro Bowler. Yanda wasn't typical Marshal early last season, fighting his way back from shoulder surgery. Osemele struggled through seven games before back surgery ended his season. Look out, this pair is healthy and raring to go.
- Left tackle Eugene Monroe is the real deal and takes a serious leadership role on the line. When you see him run, with his size, you're reminded why he was the eighth overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft.
- New center Jeremy Zuttah looks the part of a big-time player. Fast, smart, big and confident. Way to go, Ozzie [Newsome] – good trade and new contract for this player.
- We have the makings of a very good line, but there will be all kinds of media focus put on right tackle, currently being manned by Rick Wagner, our fifth-round choice a year ago. One of our top scouts told me Wednesday, "I think Wagner wins the job and holds his own. He won't disappoint us." Wagner reminds me of another fifth-round choice –Tony Pashos in 2003. Both Rick and Tony were All-Big 10 performers and were compensatory picks. After starting 16 games in 2006, when we went 13-3, Tony signed a big free-agent contract with the Jaguars. I'm just sayin'...
I asked Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta and Senior Personnel Assistant George Kokinis to tell me a player that excited them over the last two days. Both picked second-year players. DeCosta: "Brandon Williams caught my eye. He's explosive and strong." (Williams, a defensive tackle, was taken in the third round in '13.) Kokinis: "How can you not notice Arthur Brown? He's so fast, and he's figuring everything out." (Brown was our second-round selection a year ago, and he's competing for a starting inside linebacker spot.)
- Frankly, you see this every time you watch a Ravens' practice, but Joe Flacco has one of the best arms in the NFL. Maybe the best. He hums that ball, and he's so accurate. I know, I know, this is touch football right now. I doubt Steve Smith, Sr. or Owen Daniels ever had someone as good as Joe throwing to them.And, how about the tight ends? Dennis Pitta – oh, is it good to see that big, fast athlete grabbing throws. Daniels, the Pro Bowler and former Texan, what a weapon he'll be. And, the new tight end, third-rounder Crockett Gillmore? He's huge and can catch. Looks like he'll help.
- Something about the safeties – another position the media will dissect every day: Saw Jeromy Miles, a former Bengal who was one of our top special teams' players last season, steal two passes on Thursday. Darian Stewart, who started one season for the Rams and Steve Spagnuolo – now our secondary coach – is running with the first defense, and he seems to be a natural at it. I've heard a couple of our coaches say they like Stewart and that he plays with intelligence. Our other third-rounder, Terrence Brooks, the All-American from National Champion Florida State, is really fast – and we've all seen the big tackles he made on the highlights shown on ESPN. Competition for playing time among the safeties is going to be more interesting than I originally thought.
To be honest, I could go on and on. We're a fast, athletic team. It's May; it's touch football. But, it's noticeable. (I really should mention all the young defensive linemen – very athletic. We can have a lot of quality in the rotation there. I see big, fresh bodies subbing in and out. You can bet that will help guys like Haloti Ngata.)
Enough. I want to go out and watch today's practice.
Talk with you soon, Kevin