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Eisenberg: The One Real Mystery Of The Ravens


The Ravens are opening training camp with a batch of unanswered questions but only one real mystery.

I'm guessing you can identify most of the unanswered questions. The list is dominated by competitions for starting jobs, snaps and roster spots at many positions, including inside linebacker, running back and tight end. There's also uncertainty about the timing of the return of key veterans coming back from injuries, starting with Terrell Suggs and Steve Smith, Sr.

As always, a lot about the team will be determined in the long grind of hot practices continuing through mid-August.

But while I don't know with absolute certainty, I'm confident in predicting the answers to many of the unanswered questions. For instance, I'm guessing Justin Forsett will start at running back, John Urschel at left guard. I'm guessing Suggs, injured 11 months ago, has a great chance to be ready to go full speed on opening day. I'm guessing Joe Flacco's knee won't have too many bad days and a veteran inside linebacker could be added to compete for a starting spot alongside C.J. Mosley.

But there's one training camp question no one could possibly know the answer to, making it the Ravens' only true, 100-percent-up-in-the-air mystery:

Will they finally see a curtailment of the injury bug that has devastated them for the past two seasons?

If the answer is yes, meaning, for starters, that they get through training camp without losing key players for the season, I'd judge the camp a success regardless of what else happens.

Enough already.

The Ravens pretty much had to tear up their blueprint in 2015 when 20 players went on season-ending injured reserve, not counting tight end Dennis Pitta, who was on a different list but never played. The year before, they put 19 players on IR, including seven cornerbacks, a concentration that caused fateful problems.

In the wake of this brutal run, the Ravens have changed some training techniques, added a "director of performance and recovery" to their staff and begun consulting sports science metrics, all in hopes of reducing injuries and limiting their effect. The return to a grass field at M&T Bank Stadium in 2016 wasn't executed for this reason, but the organization hopes it helps.

It's a major organizational initiative – "the war on injuries," perhaps? – and early signs of its effectiveness are encouraging. Although the Ravens put six players on the physically unable to perform list for the start of training camp, the list of formerly injured players NOT on the list is impressive, starting with Forsett, Flacco and cornerback Jimmy Smith. Guys are definitely getting well in a hurry.

But the real effectiveness of the "war on injuries" begins now, as practices start. In 2014, five Ravens landed on IR before the regular season as a result of training camp injuries. Last year, Breshad Perriman went down on the first day of camp and Matt Elam was lost before August.

Some injuries are inevitable in such a rugged contact sport, of course. And players can go down without even being touched. The Ravens lost cornerback Jumal Rolle for the season during a May workout when he tore an Achilles tendon.

The moral of that story is you should set reasonable expectations because, tough as this is to say, some guys are going down. Injuries are significantly up across the board in the NFL since 2009.

I've read and heard many rationales for this unfortunate trend, pointing to everything from bigger players to shoddier tackling to more Thursday night games, all of which probably plays a part. Some experts believe a decline in practice contact, dictated by the Collective Bargaining Agreement, leaves players vulnerable on Sundays.

But while the Ravens obviously aren't the only ones to suffer from an injury bug, theirs has been an extreme case, and aside from the tangible measures they're instituting in response, I would suggest they also knock on wood before practices at the Under Armour Performance Center. Their bug has been rough enough that any and all potential solutions should be tested, including a dose of the right kind of luck, which surely can't hurt, no pun intended.

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