Eisenberg: Ravens' Five-Step Process to Optimism

This is just an observation rather than an assessment supported by hard evidence, but it sure seems Baltimore is ready for some football this year.

That's partly due, no doubt, to the Orioles' highly unfortunate season, which, if anything, has local fans ready for whatever comes next.

But even without factoring that in, it sure seems anticipation is higher for the Ravens in 2018 than in the past few years. National media crews have already visited training camp. The allotment of parking passes enabling fans to attend camp practices was snapped up almost instantly.

I just get the feeling Hank Williams Jr. would receive an enthusiastic response if he showed up here and crooned the famous lyric from his Monday Night Football theme song: "Are you ready for some football???"

It's quite a turnaround from the disappointing end to the 2017 season seven months ago.

If you recall (so sorry to bring it up), the Ravens allowed a touchdown with less than a minute left when they needed a defensive stop on a fourth-and-12 play to reach the playoffs. It meant they had missed the postseason for a third straight year and left the fan base grumbling more than I'd heard in some time.

As a new season begins, though, there's optimism.

Granted, optimism prevails at the outset of every NFL camp, when no one has lost a game yet. And to be clear, many in the national media are waiting to see if the Ravens' bandwagon actually rolls before they jump on it.

Nonetheless, things have perked up around here without a game being played. How did it happen? As I see it, a 5-step process carried the Ravens from gloomy Point A (the season-ending loss) to sunnier Point B (where they are now). Here are the five steps (and in no particular order):

Step 1: Drafting Lamar Jackson. Nothing has ramped up the anticipation more than GM Ozzie Newsome's selection of the most exciting player in the 2018 draft. It remains to be seen how he is used and how long his apprenticeship lasts, and of course, most fans hope Joe Flacco plays well enough to get the team back in the playoffs. But at the same time, they can hardly wait to see Jackson in the preseason.

Step 2: Overhauling the wide receivers. Other than investing a first-round pick in 2015, the Ravens have mostly just patched over a chronic problem spot in recent years, leaving them short on explosiveness. This time, though, Newsome completely re-populated the top of the depth chart, carefully signing three veteran free agents with a blend of skills. It remains to be seen how the pieces fit, but the overhaul indicates the organization recognized the status quo was no longer acceptable, a very-fan-friendly notion.

Step 3: Flacco's health. His recent performance level made the selection of Jackson less than a total shock, but after watching him excel on the practice field this spring and summer – throwing strikes with unlimited mobility – it's clear he has often been less than 100 percent. Now he's healthy, with his mind in a new place, too. If the Ravens hoped Jackson's selection would somehow motivate him, Flacco conceded to reporters last week that it did get his attention.

Step 4: A change at defensive coordinator. The easiest thing in the world to do is blame the guy who just left town. It's just not fair to do that to Dean Pees, the Ravens' former DC, who retired after last season only to un-retire and take a job in Tennessee weeks later. He's an excellent coach who oversaw a legendary unit in transition after Ray Lewis and Ed Reed – a task with constant challenges – but it's a bottom-line business and enough late leads were lost to wonder whether some tweaks and a new voice might be a good idea. Enter Don "Wink" Martindale.

Step 5: The possibility of a more exciting offense. The Ravens have delivered some less-than-stellar offensive performances at times in recent years. I think the fans' frustration with that was one of the reasons there were empty seats last season. Jackson's arrival alone changes that narrative -- the Ravens are experimenting with various ways to use him – and between that, the new targets, a healthy quarterback and Alex Collins, Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg admitted the other day that he has a whole lot more to work with.

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