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National Opinion: Jason Cole


*Training camp has only a few days remaining, and with so many interesting storylines regarding Baltimore football, the Ravens have already welcomed many national football writers. *


* caught up with Jason Cole of Yahoo!Sports after he attended two days of practice this week. * Jason, after speaking with some players and coaches and watching a few practices, what are your thoughts on any concerns the Ravens might have?

Jason Cole: "Well, obviously there are injuries. Everybody knows that. [Jared] Gaither, to me, is the key. You're not just talking about the fact that he's hurt, but you're talking about a guy who needs to learn the position. He didn't play a lot in college. There are still questions about his work ethic, and all of that stuff isn't going to go away until you prove it. Everything you hear about him is good, and that's fine. But, you hope that he understands the big picture at some point. This is a kid that has $100 million sitting in front of him for his career. If you think about it, that's literally true. What is a left tackle worth in this league - just a decent one? Maybe $8 million a year once he hits free agency? You hope he understands all those things. He's got all the talent to do it." How will the left tackle affect the Ravens' quarterback situation?

JC: "Well, it definitely will affect the quarterback. Is that going to be Kyle Boller or Troy Smith to start the season? I get the feeling that it's not going to be [Joe] Flacco right away, because they wouldn't want to put them in an unfair situation. That's a good thing, by the way. We'll see how that works itself out." Anything else that caught your eye?

JC: "Another concern, and this has been the same one for me for years, is the wide receiver position. I like [Mark] Clayton individually. I like [Derrick] Mason as a great third-down guy. But, there's no big-play threat. Until you have that guy who can take pressure off your quarterback, there could be a problem, especially in today's game during the regular season. The Ravens have a championship-caliber defense, but you have to get through the regular season. The regular season is about scoring points. New England shows that. Indianapolis shows that. Cleveland and San Diego are going to show that. You have to score points in the regular season the way the game is played. That has to be fixed." Do you think offensive coordinator Cam Cameron can solve some of those problems?

JC: "You're going to see a more organized attack. Cam is a very good play-caller when he's just doing the play-calling and you leave the big game-management things to others. When you talk about running an offense and the tactical stuff you have to do, he knows that. Certainly, he has proved that he's very good. That last year he had in San Diego, he was helped by a great defense that gave him great field position, and he's got that here, too. Cam needs to get some weapons to make that work in Baltimore." Did you talk to Ray Lewis, and what are your thoughts about his status in Baltimore?

JC: "I think that Ray has taken an optimistic viewpoint. He's in control of his future, and then we'll see. Ultimately, even if he's great this year, it's going to be hard to get a big contract from somebody else. It's the nature of the beast, unfortunately. They don't pay 30-something-year-old linebackers in this league. You could be Superman, but they would still ask what your birth date is. If I had to predict what's going to happen, he'll come back to the Ravens, and both sides will settle on a fair price so he can finish his Hall-of-Fame career as a Raven. It probably should be that way, anyway.

"Hey, he may grouse a little bit about the money. We'll all read those stories. Of course, I won't blame anybody for wanting more money. I want more money. Tell my bosses at Yahoo! I want more cash [laughs]. They're probably not going to give it to me. That's just the way life goes." You seem to be pretty high on the Browns. What do you see coming from them?

JC: "I think if Cleveland stays healthy at the rest of their positions, they can compete. They've already got a big issue with [wideout Joe] Jurevicius, but they may be able to cover that up with Donte Stallworth to go with [tight end Kellen] Winslow, Jr. and Braylon Edwards. Jurevicius is such a great weapon because he is so good on third down. I think he was top three or four in the NFL in third-down receptions last year. He's also an important guy for [quarterback] Derek Anderson to have because of the trust factor.

"Are they able to overcome that kind of a loss on both sides of the ball? Looking at their defense, their secondary is so/so and their pass rush is so/so. [Linebacker Kamerion] Wimbley is very good, and I think they could be talking themselves into believing they have more at other spots. They're better at defensive tackle, though. The Browns are going to score a lot of points, and hopefully they put their defense in favorable positions, so they don't surrender a lot of points." Do you think the Ravens can compete this year, or are they still a little bit away?

JC: "Again, a lot of it depends on the offense. If you look around the rest of your division, Pittsburgh has enough weapons to score a lot of points. They're going to be right there if they don't have too many injuries. The Steelers injected enough youth into their team that they should be able to make a solid transition.

"If you could take the Cincinnati offense and put it with the Ravens' defense, you win the Super Bowl. And vice-versa. It's that simple. This is where Baltimore has had trouble with Cincinnati, because they get behind and then can't pass enough to keep up with the score. It's not like the Bengals run up a ton of points, but it's just enough to get by. If the Ravens can fix their offense, it could make a difference with those types of games."

Jason Cole is an award-winning writer who covered the Miami Dolphins for 15 years at *The Miami Herald *and the South Florida *Sun-Sentinel. A member of the Pro Football Writers Association, he also has experience covering the NBA. Jason graduated from Stanford with a degree in communication. Read Jason Cole's archive here.*

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