We're not quite in full training camp mode, but there are strong rumblings in the building.
The rookies have been here since Wednesday. Man, first-round pick Breshad Perriman is a big man with large hands, and he seems like a good, young man. Coaches and teammates are excited about him.
Injured veteran players, some of whom have been in the building almost every day since the end of last season, reported today. Good to see guys like Jimmy Smith, Rick Wagner and Terrence Brooks, all of whom have worked so hard to get back.
On Sunday, the quarterbacks arrive. The rest of the team joins us next Wednesday (July 29), and we're on the field Thursday morning with the first official practice of the 2015 season.
The weights are clanging, the grass is cut, the lines are painted. It looks like football and smells like training camp.
Let's get ready to rumble. If a collective energy could burst bricks, our Under Amour Performance Center would tumble.
Where Were We And Where Are We?
Last time we were a team playing games, we dropped a 35-31 decision in the divisional playoff round at New England. We were a hard-fighting group with a decimated secondary that built two 14-point leads, losing in the end to the eventual Super Bowl champion.
Damn! Still hurts thinking about that.
Plenty has happened since, and the perception of the Ravens right now is pretty good. That doesn't mean much, but it's nice to be respected.
Peter King of Sports Illustrated and Monday Morning Quarterback fame, has the Ravens on top of his NFL poll right now. But, even he admits that the listing is "silly" in the offseason.
Nate Davis, of USA Today, grades the Ravens' offseason with a "B." Davis wrote: "Capped out in March, they were forced to bid adieu to championship heroes of yesteryear, defensive lineman Haloti Ngata, wide receiver Torrey Smith and kick returner Jacoby Jones among them. General Manager Ozzie Newsome was able to retain running back Justin Forsett and made a nice pickup with the addition of safety Kendrick Lewis. Newsome also seemed to replenish his roster with another impressive draft headlined by wide receiver Breshad Perriman and tight end Maxx Williams. Don't sleep on fourth-round running back Buck Allen."
Davis placed only four teams ahead of us with his grades, giving the Dolphins an "A," the Bills and Jets an "A-" and the Jaguars a "B ."
When Steve Bisciotti brought a collection of Ravens officials to his home in Jupiter, Florida, on Feb. 2 and 3, the two days following the Super Bowl, priorities for our offseason were established.
Team president Dick Cass, Newsome, John Harbaugh, Assistant General Manager Eric DeCosta and Senior Vice President Of Football Operations Pat Moriarty joined the Ravens owner.
These guys wouldn't share anything with me ever again if I disclosed all that is in our master plan, but I can reveal some of the big-picture views.
"We were fixated on our [salary] cap. That and signing Jimmy Smith to an extension," Cass said. "Jimmy can be a long-term foundation in our secondary, and it was important to get that done.
"Re-signing Justin Forsett and extending Sam Koch were on the 'wish list,' too, and Pat and Ozzie were able to get that done."
Here are some of the other "priorities" discussed in Jupiter:
- Improving the secondary and how to get that done was discussed thoroughly. "Ozzie was confident that after the rush of free agency, when the [Darrelle] Revis-type players would be grabbed, that there would be quality players available to us," Cass said. Newsome often preaches patience when acquiring talent, and it paid off. Free agent safety Kendrick Lewis, who started for the Texans in 2014, was signed. When cornerback Kyle Arrington became a cap casualty in New England, the Ravens swooped up the proven veteran within days.
- Adjusting Ngata's contract was most important to improve the cap situation. The hope was to do something like we did with Terrell Suggs to ensure that Haloti could play his entire career with the Ravens. When an agreement couldn't be reached, we traded the standout to the Lions.
- Conversations regarding the wide receiver and tight end positions were extensive. It was understood that, because of our cap situation, any offer to Torrey Smith would likely be bettered by another NFL team. As Ozzie likes to say: "It only takes one." Smith signed a significant contract with the 49ers. Newsome and DeCosta instructed that the 2015 draft was a "good one for receivers." There was talk about our inability to keep a veteran like Jacoby Jones, who later signed with the Chargers. "Oz, John and Eric believe that the young receivers on our roster, while not well known, are good players who can help us win," Cass noted.
- We wanted to keep tight end Owen Daniels, but we also knew that he could follow Gary Kubiak to Denver, which did happen. The football folks noted that the draft was not deep in tight ends, and there were only a few who could help us. The fact that we drafted Maxx Williams in the second round – moving up after trading with the Cardinals – could be the coup of this offseason. Williams was considered by many the best tight end available in this year's rookie crop.
- Backup quarterback was a serious topic. Tyrod Taylor, Joe Flacco's backup for the last four seasons, was a free agent. "It was even mentioned that Rex Ryan always liked Tyrod, and sure enough, the Bills signed him," Cass mentioned. The Ravens' brass liked the veteran QBs who would be available and decided, if Taylor left, a vet would be signed. Two-time Pro Bowler Matt Schaub was added on March 31.
The 2015 Ravens story now continues with the start of training camp. There will be surprises along the way, hardships and some headaches. As always, it will be fun and intriguing to watch.
Harbaugh Heading To The Hall Of Fame?
That's what Al Saunders believes. Saunders, the former head coach of the Chargers, is a highly-respected coach and has worked with elite mentors like … well, I'll let Al tell it, as he did to Gur Samuel of Baltimore Beatdown:
"I've worked for Don Coryell. I've worked for Dick Vermeil. I worked for Joe Gibbs. I worked for Marty Schottenheimer. I've worked for John McKay and Johnny Majors in college. And all of those would be considered some of the finest coaches in the history of the game. I think John Harbaugh is one of those guys. … He has the football acumen. He has a tremendous feel for his players, he has a great way to motivate people. He's an intellectual guy. He allows for personalities to express themselves. I think he has every quality to be a Hall of Fame head coach in the NFL."
(Saunders was a senior offensive assistant with the Ravens from 2010-11.)
We believe in John, too, Al. We can't wait to see what happens in camp over the next few weeks as we find out which players make their mark and become part of the 2015 Ravens. It's pretty darn exciting!
Talk with you next week,