When defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan spoke to the media after an Organized Team Activity practice last week, the subject of the Ravens' disappointing 2015 season came up.
"That's something you wake up and you have to think about it every day," Jernigan said. "Every day we walk through those doors, we're thinking about, 'Man, we went 5-11 last year.' When I want to take a break, that's what I think about. It's not acceptable. The players don't accept it. The coaches don't accept it. Nobody in this organization does, so it's definitely on our mind every day."
His comments caught me by surprise for a couple of reasons. I hadn't heard many Ravens, if any, really reflect on the bummer of a season since it ended. Pro football players are notorious for moving on, regardless if they're putting good or bad behind them, so that wasn't a complete surprise. But Jernigan's passion was.
He even brought up 5-11 again when someone asked him a routine question about setting a goal of reaching the Pro Bowl in 2016.
"I'm definitely working hard towards that, but that's not my main focus; 5-11 is my main focus. That's what I'm thinking about every day. I'm not worried about the Pro Bowl," Jernigan said.
I guess it surprised me because, when you think about it, the vast majority of offseason interviews prioritize the individual over the collective. When a player is asked to assess his most recent season, the subtext is what HE did right, what HE did wrong, how HE can improve, what HE needs to do to come back from an injury or earn a new contract. His team's ups and downs generally take a back seat.
The nature of such conversations is inevitable. While players are making a mistake if they don't buy into the prospects of the team that pays them, the reality is they're all individual contractors looking out for their own careers (and paychecks).
In the Ravens' case, I didn't know how the players were approaching the whole "5-11 thing" from a psychological standpoint. It could be argued that the smart play would be for them to just forget it, take those memories and lock them away somewhere, out of sight and mind. It was, after all, a pretty miserable experience. The Ravens began a season with great expectations but lost six of their first seven games and ended up with their worst record since 2007.
A team as accustomed to success as the Ravens could easily dismiss it, especially since so many key players wound up injured. Hey, stuff happens. You can't always win.
But Jernigan's comments made it sound as if the opposite is happening and the players are embracing the disappointment of last year; using it as a motivational tool.
I think that's a great idea.
Nothing motives pro athletes more effectively than failure. They're all highly accomplished, come from a history of success. How they play is who they are in a sense, and they don't want to be losers.
When basketball's Golden State Warriors lost three of the first four games of their recent playoff series with Oklahoma City, they steeled their eyes and announced they were going to "shock the world" and come back and win. This was a team that went 73-9 during the regular season. Even they found a way to use losing as motivation. (Oh, and they did come back and win.)
If I'm Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh, I'm putting last year's record on a black t-shirt and handing it out to the players at the start of training camp. Yeah, 5-11. Let's not go down that road again.
I imagine some people would find that strange. A phrase on a t-shirt is supposed to be inspirational, not depressing. It's supposed to conjure images of what you can do right, not images of what you did wrong.
It's doubtful we'll see such shirts at camp, of course. Harbaugh always has ideas about how to motivate his squad, and commemorating his worst season in the NFL probably isn't at the top of the list. But it's not a bad thing that, as Jernigan said, the memory of going 5-11 is "definitely on our mind every day."