Finally, we get to watch the Ravens play real football again.
Here are my thoughts ahead of Baltimore's season-opener against the Houston Texans Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium:
There's a palpable edge to this team. The way last year ended and the obviously talented roster have players more excited for the season to start than any year I remember. Player after player this week who spoke to media seemed like they were ready to hit anything that flinched.
Of course, the overall team goal is to capitalize on this loaded roster to finally reach the Super Bowl that has been seemingly just out of the Ravens' reach during the Lamar Jackson era. But what I also like is there are so many players with individual motivations.
Lamar Jackson is dying to just play. Missing the end of last season, and the one before, has been eating at him. With the weight of the contract burden behind him, Jackson seems to be in a different space as he enters this season. He just wants to play.
Odell Beckham Jr.'s long journey back, including a year out of football, combined with a strong training camp, has him buzzing with anticipation. I get the feeling that he thinks he's getting back to elite status on the field this year and there have been no indications otherwise.
J.K. Dobbins finally has his chance to break out, which he's been waiting for since his preseason knee injury in 2021. I don't know how many times Dobbins has smirked and told me, "you'll see" when asked about what's in store this season, but it's been a lot.
Rashod Bateman seems like he's in a really good place, mentally and physically. I think he liked having the pressure of being the No. 1 guy last year before his foot injury, but he's also now embracing his under-the-radar role. He seems to love what Todd Monken is dialing up.
Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo are hungry to show they're ready for breakout seasons. The cornerbacks want to prove they can hold the fort while Marlon Humphrey is out. Patrick Queen, Justin Madubuike and other guys going into contract years want to prove they should be paid.
The Texans provide favorable matchups for two of the Ravens' defensive question marks to have strong opening statements. Their right tackle was put on IR this week (bonus pass rushers). They have a rookie QB making his first start and no wideouts that topped 600 yards last season (bonus cornerbacks).
Some Ravens' players breakout candidates, told to The Baltimore Banner this week, were surprising. Gus Edwards pointed to fellow running back Justice Hill, saying, "going to be a big part of our offense this year." Hill did have a good summer. The running back snap distribution will be interesting.
I have no idea what Jadeveon Clowney was like at other stops, but he seems to love it in Baltimore and is fitting in well in the locker room. Things didn't end well in Cleveland last year, but Clowney could be next in the Ravens' lineage of veteran comeback stories.