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Late for Work 7/18: Ravens Gearing up for the Most Anticipated Training Camp in a Decade

071818_LFW_FlaccoJackson

Ravens Gearing up for the Most Anticipated Training Camp in a Decade

Folks, football is here. Hallelujah!

Ravens veterans report to training camp today, but it's not just any training camp.

Ebony Bird's Jake McDonnell called it the "most anticipated training camp in a decade." Here are six reasons why, along with commentary from reporters from around the web:

1) The pivotal season for John Harbaugh/Joe Flacco era.

It's been 10 years since the Ravens hired John Harbaugh, the winningest head coach in Ravens history. Then they turned around and drafted quarterback Joe Flacco in the first round. They have been the unquestioned leaders in Baltimore since arriving. The two enjoyed immediate playoff success that lasted five years, the pinnacle being Super Bowl XLVII. The last five years have been more tenuous, with the team advancing to the postseason just once.

"After three straight seasons of no playoffs, 2018 sets up as pivotal year for the Ravens," wrote The Baltimore Sun's Childs Walker. "General Manager Ozzie Newsome, the greatest constant in franchise history, is on his way out. Coach John Harbaugh and quarterback Joe Flacco could join him, depending on how they perform this season. Fan interest has also reached a tenuous point, as evidenced by the thousands of empty seats at home games in 2017 and the declining market for season ticket licenses.

Are we looking at the continuation of an era that began when Harbaugh and Flacco arrived in 2008? Or a drastic turn toward a less certain future?

2) The inevitable quarterback controversy (even though Flacco is the clear starter), and the palpable excitement to watch the ultra-athletic Lamar Jackson.

The Ravens haven't had a quarterback controversy since Flacco played in his first game as a rookie in 2008. His Super Bowl MVP performance solidified him as the franchise quarterback, but he would be the first to say that he recently hasn't lived up to the standards he set, partially because of knee and back injuries. The presence of first-round quarterback Lamar Jackson changes the narrative, and no matter how things play out, "we have not seen this interesting a quarterback scenario in at least a decade," says Walker.

"When the Ravens play the [Buffalo Bills] at M&T Bank Stadium on September 9, there's going to be a lot of pressure on Flacco," wrote McDonnell. "There will be added pressure if Jackson has a good showing in the preseason. Even though the coaching staff repeatedly told the media that Flacco would be the starter this season, that doesn't mean that plans won't change. If Flacco struggles week 1, the 'we want Jackson' chants will begin. How will Harbaugh react with that gigantic elephant in the room (or in this case, stadium)? It's a scenario that Flacco and Harbaugh's staff have never dealt with to this magnitude." 

WNST's Luke Jones: "I'm frequently asked about Jackson possibly starting over Flacco this year, but I only see it if the Ravens enter December with a 4-7 record and are out of the playoff race. Assuming Flacco and the offense haven't played well under that scenario, Jackson playing would be a no-brainer."

Walker: "Jackson will give us a reason to watch Ravens preseason games. He's the most intriguing offensive prospect the team has drafted in a long time, maybe ever. … Harbaugh has made it clear he plans to use Jackson this season, whether in special packages of plays tailored to his skills or in tandem with Flacco. It's conceivable that if he handles the work seamlessly, he'll be the team's projected starter for 2019. It's also possible he'll struggle enough to become a two- or three-year project."

Yahoo Sports' Frank Schwab: "The truth is, the Ravens are a boring football team and have been for a couple years. Not bad. Just boring. The Ravens offense has become dreadful to watch. … What do you do when you're a successful franchise – the Ravens have had only one losing season since 2007 – but the fans are tuning you out anyway? You go take the most exciting player in the NFL draft. Picking Jackson wasn't the only change the Ravens made or considered, but it will be the one that defines the franchise in the upcoming years." 

3) A "win one for Ozzie" sentiment.

Newsome, the only general manager the Ravens have ever known, announced this will be his final season at the helm. He plans on staying with the team after this year, but his new role is still unknown. His successor, Eric DeCosta, said the scouts wanted to send Newsome off with a bang with one last great draft class, and the rest of the organization will probably want the same with a successful season.

"There could certainly be a 'Win One For Ozzie' sentiment here, which sounds foolish, but the Ravens managed to make it work the last time they won a Super Bowl," wrote CBS Sports' Will Brinson.

4) A completely new cast of characters at receiver.

Newsome promised a new receiver room and he delivered with three new veterans (Michael Crabtree, John Brown, Willie Snead IV) and two new mid-round rookies (Jaleel Scoot, Jordan Lasley). The Ravens GM also added two pass-catching tight ends in first-rounder Hayden Hurst and third-rounder Mark Andrews.

"Ravens fans must be ecstatic that the Baltimore front office brought in a whole new cast of characters for Flacco to throw to [because] a season ago, his receivers generated the lowest rate of positively-graded players AND the highest rate of negatively-graded plays," wrote Pro Football Focus' Cam Mellor. "There's only one way to go for this receiving corps in 2018, and that's up."

"Even without Jackson under center, the Ravens have enough on hand to do some damage in the AFC North," added Brinson. "Crabtree, Snead and Brown might be the best trio of wideouts Flacco's had in a few years, which says something (bad about their previous receivers)."

5) Wink Martindale taking over the defense, trying to take it from very good to great.

The Ravens defense wants to redeem the fourth-and-12 heartbreak, which is why players and coaches have emphasized finishing all offseason. To help erase the bitter taste, the Ravens appointed Don "Wink" Martindale to lead the group following Dean Pees' departure. Players have talked about how much they enjoy the freedom Martindale has given them to adjust on the fly, and they hope it will be the difference.

"Can the defense go from very good to great?" asked Walker. "The Ravens will bring back almost their entire defense from 2017, and that's mostly a good thing given the wealth of solid players on all three levels. But the defense did not consistently dominate and, perhaps more importantly, faltered when it needed a stop against the Cincinnati Bengals with a playoff berth on the line in the season finale. On top of that, the Ravens rely heavily on 35-year-old linebacker Terrell Suggs, 33-year-old safety Eric Weddle and injury-prone cornerback Jimmy Smith. They'll try to do better this season with popular linebackers coach Don 'Wink' Martindale moving up to replace Dean Pees at coordinator."

6) The return of 2,000 roaring Ravens fans to training camp.

The Ravens have spent the last two years and $45 million remodeling the Under Armour Performance Center and expanding parking so that more fans can enjoy the intimate experience of attending 15 training camp practices. The roaring crowds will easily be the largest since the Ravens moved from Westminster in 2012.

"Close to 2,000 fans being able to attend training camp daily will be a plus for an organization needing to reconnect more strongly with its fans," Jones wrote. "The fallout of leaving Westminster was always going to be felt more at a time when the Ravens weren't winning as frequently."

Ray Lewis to Speak Last at the HOF Enshrinement Ceremony

Well, well, well.

Look who the Hall of Fame enshrinement committee saved for last in the ceremony's speech order.

It's no surprise Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis is last, considering his penchant for delivering fiery, inspiring speeches. This is completely the opposite of what happened the last time a Raven was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Legendary left tackle Jonathan Ogden, a man a few words, went first.

What's the record for longest Hall of Fame speech? My guess is Lewis shatters yet another record, which probably means we'll be up until 3 a.m. watching. I'm all in for the once-in-a-lifetime event.

Ravens Don't Fare Well in ESPN's Future NFL Power Rankings (Projecting Next Three Seasons)

The "experts" at ESPN not only have questions about the Ravens' 2018 season, but they also have doubts for the next three years.

A panel of three – Louis Riddick, Mike Sando and Field Yates – tried to project which NFL franchises are in the best shape for the next three years by rating each team's roster, quarterback, draft, front office and coaching. They then averaged and weighted those ratings, and came up with a future power rankings list.

The Ravens were ranked in the bottom-half of the league at No. 19. Below are Baltimore's scores and ranks for each category:

Roster: 74.3 grade, 20th rank

Quarterback: 74 grade, 27th rank

Coaching: 77 grade, 17th rank

Draft: 75 grade, 23 rank

Front office: 75 grade, 16 rank

Why are the Ravens ranked at No. 19?

"GM Ozzie Newsome will leave his post after this season and hand the keys to Eric DeCosta, who is well-regarded. But losing Newsome is unquestionably a blow to this steady organization," wrote Yates. "The final first-round pick Newsome made, Lamar Jackson, will define the future of this team."

The panel explained how Baltimore can improve its overall ranking.

"The Ravens' outlook at quarterback is the variable that will determine the trajectory for this organization," wrote Sando. "The team has gone 40-40 since re-signing Joe Flacco to an expensive contract extension following the Ravens' Super Bowl victory over San Francisco. If Jackson can develop quickly, Baltimore could again benefit from having a young, inexpensive quarterback."

Quick Hits

  • "[Patrick] Onwuasor replaced [Kamalei] Correa as the starting weak-side linebacker for 13 of the final 16 games of 2017 (including the last 12), but he might be pushed by [Albert] McClellan, who is returning after sitting out last season because of a torn ACL," Edward Lee wrote in his linebackers preview. "[Bam] Bradley is another player attempting to bounce back from an ACL tear suffered in the second game of the season. At the age of 35, Suggs will likely be treated accordingly and be given a certain amount of latitude to take a few practices off and preserve himself for the regular season." [The Baltimore Sun]
  • "This rookie could start: Hayden Hurst. The first-round pick is the best pass-catching tight end on the team. There's a reason the Ravens used the No. 25 overall pick on Hurst after not re-signing Benjamin Watson and not being able to lure Eric Ebron to Baltimore." [ESPN]

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