Eisenberg: Ravens Won't Undermine Winning With Youth Experiment


Normally, I would use this forum to join the media chorus urging the Ravens to use the rest of this season to try out some of their young talent. When you're 2-7, why not get a better grip on what you've got going forward?

But do I really need to say it? Does anyone?

I don't think the Ravens need to be urged to "go young."

Head Coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week that, "while I wouldn't tie it with the record," he would gladly give young guys a chance when they practice well enough to earn the opportunity – that's how things always work, he said. And in any case, with 16 players on injured reserve, the Ravens are already plumbing the depths of their roster to give snaps to young guys.

It's the only positive byproduct of the injury wave of 2015.

The latest to get a chance is John Urschel, the second-year lineman, who inherited the starting center job this week when Jeremy Zuttah was lost for the season with a torn pectoral muscle.

It's a rough break for Zuttah, but Urschel could easily be a starter somewhere on the line in 2016, so it doesn't hurt to move his development along.

Let's review other ways the Ravens have gone young in 2015, not always by design:

  • With Terrell Suggs out since Week 1, rookie linebacker Za'Darius Smith has received more extensive playing time, enhancing his development. He has 16 tackles and two sacks.
  • With offensive tackle Eugene Monroe out intermittently with injuries, James Hurst has made four starts and played a ton.
  • In Dennis Pitta's absence, the entire tight end depth chart is young, with Crockett Gillmore, 24, the elder statesman ahead of rookies Maxx Williams and Nick Boyle.
  • When defensive end Chris Canty missed games with a calf injury, Lawrence Guy established himself as a viable part of the interior rotation. He ranks sixth on the team in tackles.
  • With Steve Smith Sr. out for the year, Kamar Aiken is now the de facto No. 1 receiver, Chris Givens is a starter and Jeremy Butler is getting snaps.
  • Last Sunday, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees debuted a nickel package that included larger roles for young linebackers Zach Orr and Arthur Brown.

Sure, the Ravens can accelerate the process in the coming weeks by giving more snaps to running backs Buck Allen and Terrence West, safety Terrence Brooks and defensive linemen Carl Davis and Brent Urban, all of whom are either rookies or second-year players. (Urban should be activated soon.) I expect that to happen.

What I don't expect – and no one should – is for them to take it so far that they willingly undermine their chances of winning. One of the great fabricated talking points of this losing season is that they should start tanking games to better their draft prospects.

It's an idea I hear and see all the time on the radio and the Internet, and I get that it makes a form of sense if you're not going to the playoffs. I'm sure some fans would like to see it. But people need to recognize that it's simply a nonsensical concept where the games are actually contested, among the players and coaches. You might as well suggest they play volleyball on Sundays.

Regardless of their record, the Ravens are going to practice hard, compete hard and try to win. That's what they're supposed to do, what they're paid to do, all they know how to do. The absolute last thing they're going to do is ease up, which is liable to result in injuries more than anything else.

Frankly, I feel foolish even granting the idea a public airing.

It's never, ever, ever going to happen.

Checking out some young players is fine; let's see what they can do. It's also time to give a long leash to new schemes, such as trying Lardarius Webb at safety, which could alter future plans.

The Ravens are selling themselves short if they don't study all ideas and performances for the rest of the season with one question in mind: Who and what makes sense for us going forward?

But no matter who or what they try, or what their record is, the Ravens are always going to go all-out to win.

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