Eisenberg: Ozzie Newsome Cautious About 2016 Playoff Hopes


Ravens General Manager Ozzie Newsome certainly wasn't wearing purple-colored glasses when he was asked last week how close the Ravens were to becoming playoff contenders again in 2016.

"I think I can probably answer that better after about the third preseason game," Newsome said during a pre-draft press event at the Under Armour Performance Center.

I'm guessing some fans hoped he would answer more optimistically. The Ravens have had a positive offseason football-wise, getting Joe Flacco's name on a contract extension and filling several key holes with veterans Eric Weddle, Mike Wallace and Benjamin Watson. Now they're hoping to add some young talent in the draft later this month, and with the sixth-overall pick and seven of the first 134, they've got a shot.

Between those developments and the team's overall track record of six playoff appearances in the past eight seasons, you know the organization would love to shout from a mountaintop, or at least Federal Hill, that it believes 2016 is going to be a lot better than 2015.

It certainly wants no part of the statement a second straight losing season would make.

But Newsome exhibited caution last week. In fact, he said, the preseason might be too soon to know and it might take until well into the regular season before a meaningful consensus forms on the 2016 Ravens.

"If you listen to some of the other people in the business, it normally takes you through the first four games (of the regular season) before you find out what team you really have," he said. "So we will take that same path in trying to find out where this team is going to be."

Let's talk in October, in other words.

Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh was sitting beside him as he spoke, and while hedging on the team's prospects, Newsome was quick to praise the coaches.

"I know John and his staff have put in countless hours working on schemes and how to prepare themselves to be better to play," Newsome said. "Now they're working on the opponents that we're going to play against."

All things considered, Newsome didn't lack for optimism. "Based on our acquisitions so far and hopefully the health we'll get back, we should be better," he said, adding that "we lost a lot of close games last year, and maybe guys can make a play or two to help us out and we can win some of those games that we lost."

Still, his tone was guarded, and I applaud the realistic assessment. Because for all the Ravens have done, and will do, to better themselves, the single biggest determinant for their 2016 prospects is how their injured veterans will fare in coming back from the setbacks that ended their 2015 seasons. And we won't know how all that goes for months.

The list of Ravens coming off injuries is impressive, as you know, including most of the offense's top playmakers (Flacco, Justin Forsett, Steve Smith Sr.), the defense's emotional centerpiece (Terrell Suggs), the starting center (Jeremy Zuttah), top returning tight end (Crockett Gillmore), 2015 first-round draft pick (receiver Breshad Perriman) and, hmm, did I leave anyone out?

The Ravens hope all return to play major roles, but there's no way of knowing whether their knees, shoulders, Achilles tendons, etc., will cooperate. A perfect return rate would be quite a feat, especially considering some of the players are well over 30.

Other factors will have a big say in how 2016 goes, of course. The ebb and flow of the schedule, due out soon, will play a role. (I expect it to be easier than last year's.) For the first time since 2013, the Ravens aren't breaking in a new offensive coordinator. As Newsome noted, just a few big play here and there can change a lot.

But Newsome alluded to the injury issue last week, saying, "You know, we have a lot of guys coming off injuries" and "it will be up to the medical staff when they can get to the field."

Needless to say, it's most important that Flacco returns at 100 percent; any recipe for success begins with his being available and effective. But every player on that injured list is penciled in for a key role, and even if they're healthy, another question looms: Can they play at the same level again?

So while it's probably not what anyone wants to hear, indeed, let's talk in October.

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