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Eisenberg: Finally Turning Page On Meaningless Debate


So we're done with the V-word for another year. How about a round of applause?

Yes, the voluntary portion of the Ravens' offseason has ended with the conclusion of organized team activity sessions (OTAs). All that's left on the practice docket between now and the 2014 regular season is a mandatory three-day minicamp next week, and then, after a summer break, training camp, which begins in late July.

Are you ready for them to turn the page from the V-word to the M-word (mandatory)? I know I am.

Ordinarily, the most meaningless talking point of the offseason is whether various veterans are slacking off by not attending practices and workouts they're not required to attend, and in most cases, don't need.

But that silly conversation was surpassed in this offseason by an even sillier debate about whether Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco was undermining the teams' prospects by not organizing springtime throwing sessions with his receivers.

My position on the issue was stated awhile ago. It's irrelevant. Can we talk about something else? If the Ravens lose a big game in December, no one is going to finger a lack of informal passing practices in April as the culprit. By the same token, if Flacco did throw to his guys on some high school field, no one in their right mind would say it enabled them to win a big game in December.

Of course, those ripping Flacco for this actually are making a far larger and darker criticism in code, suggesting he no longer cares enough to go the extra mile since he won a Super Bowl and signed a $120 million deal.

Flacco, to his credit, has never deigned to rebut the charge, and Ravens Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak offered a slam-dunk rebuttal on his behalf earlier this week. According to Kubiak, Flacco is "way ahead" of everyone in his grasp of the team's new playbook and offensive system. The quarterback has been in attendance throughout the voluntary workout season, leading the installation of Kubiak's offense.

"I think he worked his tail off when he was away from me," Kubiak said. "With the way the (CBA) rules are set up, we tried to get Joe as much information as we could so he could study, and when it was time to go to work, we could get our hands on him and do those types of things. It was obvious when he came in how hard he had worked at what he was doing."

Seriously, can we talk about something other than his commitment?

Oh, right, we can. (Sigh.) We can talk about whether it matters that Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and several other big-name veterans didn't attend OTAs or participate in the team's offseason training program.

It's a subject that comes up every year around now, like a pollen rash. Here's my take: OTA sessions and on-site offseason training are mostly for younger guys still learning what it takes to be a pro. Veterans occasionally might need to show up, such as when a new offense is being installed, but even then, they've been around the game and can pick up pretty much anything in training camp. They also know they could be looking for work if they aren't in shape or otherwise sharpening themselves for the season.

If a player shows up out of shape at next week's mandatory minicamp, that's a story, sort of. (Training camp is still more than a month away). And if he doesn't show up at all, that's also potentially sort of newsworthy, hinting at a possible problem with salary, conditioning, etc. But frankly, veterans have missed the mandatory camp many times over the years (Ed Reed most recently) and their absence seldom mattered.

I think the V-word debate arises every year mostly because the NFL has become so popular that it is now discussed all year, and we have to talk about SOMETHING in the absence of games, the draft or substantive personnel moves in May and June. The persistence of our enduring pro football conversation is impressive, but some subjects are, ahem, more important than others.

If you're looking for a Father's Day gift, here's a suggestion: Ravens broadcaster Gerry Sandusky's recently-published book, "Forgotten Sundays." It's a coming-of-age tale about football and family, centering on his father, John, an assistant coach with the Baltimore Colts, Philadelphia Eagles and Miami Dolphins, and the Colts' head coach for nine games in 1972. Gerry Sandusky writes poignantly about growing up in the game with a larger-than-life dad who "tumbled into the gorge of Alzheimer's."

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