I LIKE THE VIBRATIONS
As Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys wrote many years ago: "I'm picking up good vibrations."
Look, we have a good football team. I haven't seen any preseason prediction that does not have us making the playoffs. But, we don't take that for granted and fully realize that it will be very difficult to actually win enough games to gain the NFL's postseason.
There is a vibe around this team. First, we have a lot of talent. We have many good players surrounded by some elite standouts. The players have bought in to what the coaches are teaching, and I believe John Harbaugh has the pulse of this team. His connection with the players, especially key leaders, is outstanding. Harbs is pushing his coaches and players to higher levels, and we're prepared to start the regular season.
THE O-LINEThere is a lot of conversation about our offensive line, and particularly the signing of Bryant McKinnie, who earned the Pro Bowl in 2009. First, let's start with the "eyeball" test. Bryant passes. He looks good. I was expecting, after reading stories that he was fat – 400 pounds according to some reports – to see a big, puffy man. He doesn't look like that. He looks like a big athlete. It's obvious he works out.
Now, there's a reason he was available. My belief is that the first reason the Vikings got rid of him was because he had a big salary. He told me that the Vikes wanted him to restructure his contract and take less money. He said no, and they released him. It also allowed their new head coach to make a statement to his team about being prepared to play. McKinnie admits that he "wasn't in great shape" when he reported to Vikings' training camp, saying "I was heavy." He's lost over 20 pounds since then with a strenuous conditioning program.
So I asked Matt Birk, who played many seasons in Minnesota with Bryant, what kind of guy McKinnie is. Is he a jerk, lazy, a thug? Is he dumb? Good teammate? Birk said: "He's a good guy, good teammate, and he can play. He's a little quiet, but he has a good sense of humor. I never saw signs that he was a bad guy, but he obviously had some incidents along the way."
When McKinnie was asked about those incidents, he didn't back away. "I made some mistakes when I was younger. I'm embarrassed by them. I'm more mature, and the Ravens have given me the chance for a fresh start. I'm taking advantage of that. They expect to win here, and I think I can help," McKinnie told the Ravens' TV and radio crews on Wednesday night in Atlanta.
It's no secret that both Ed Reed, McKinnie's teammate at the University of Miami, and Ray Lewis lobbied Ozzie Newsome and Coach Harbaugh to sign Bryant. "It was great that Ed and Ray did that, and I know Matt [Birk] put in a good word for me. Reggie Wayne was recruiting me to come to Indianapolis. That made me feel good. But, I liked what I heard about the Ravens, and Ed and Ray kept calling," McKinnie explained.
Here's what I liked. After a long practice last Saturday, I saw Reed grab McKinnie, and the two ran gassers after practice. A short while later, a third player joined them – Ray Lewis. "They told me they would make sure McKinnie was in Ravens shape," Newsome said as we walked off the practice field.
Before signing McKinnie, who has always played left tackle, Ozzie and Harbs brought Michael Oher in for a meeting to tell him that when McKinnie comes, Oher would be moved to right tackle. I wasn't at that meeting, but I understand that Michael basically said that Oz and John did not owe him any explanation. Instead, Michael told them that he owed them because they had taken Oher in the first round. How about that! Oher, who could have a huge ego considering the movie made about his life and his recent New York Times bestseller, is all about what's best for the team.
Love that vibe, man.
(By the way, Michael is a good left tackle. Last season, we won 12 games and another in the playoffs with Michael on the blind side. My guess is that Oher will be back on the left side when McKinnie ends his career.)
JIMMY SMITH AND TYROD TAYLOR
When a draft choice doesn't look the part, the first rumblings you hear come from the veteran players. They'll let you know when they think a guy can't play. On the other hand, when they see players who can help the team win, they'll let you know that, too.
Well, there's no doubt the vets believe Jimmy Smith and Tyrod Taylor can play. You got a sense of what they think of Taylor if you were watching Ray Lewis' interview with ESPN's Suzy Kolber at the end of our game against the Redskins. And, we have seen multiple examples of Lewis, Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata instructing and embracing Smith since the first week of camp. They all recognize how good Smith is and that Jimmy could have an impact from Day 1.
HAVING FUNThrough my many years in the league, I've discovered that teams that have fun have a better chance to win. If guys don't like each other or the coaches – or even the organization – there's less energy to improve. Well, it's early, but this Ravens' team is having some fun.
I go down to the bench area for the last two minutes of every game. What I saw at the ends of those last-minute victories over the Redskins and Chiefs was, players were into it. I saw vets yelling at Coach Harbaugh to keep the pressure on during the last couple of minutes against Kansas City. Some even started chanting "Onsides kick" after the final touchdown. Players were laughing, John was smiling – and I'm glad Harbs elected not to listen to his cheerleading vets.
At the end of the Redskins' contest, I saw all the vets rooting for many young Ravens who will be out on the streets tomorrow after being waived. It was not only joyful, it was a sign of respect for these guys who have worked so hard to be part of this team and helped get our vets ready for the regular season.
Last night, after the victory over Atlanta, Harbs called on Ray Rice to speak in the locker room. Rice wanted a football – and we're an NFL team and we couldn't find one. They were already packed. Rice called defensive coordinator, Chuck Pagano, to the center of the room. "Chuck you deserve a game ball for the way your defense carried us tonight. The players started chanting: "Chuck, Chuck…"
Again, good signs, good vibes.
A THROW MADE FOR YOU TUBE
While young players were working on special teams near the end of a recent practice, I noticed Joe Flacco throwing a ball toward a garbage can behind the end zone. Depending on where he released the ball, Joe was 38 to 40 yards away from the target. He was firing rockets. I watched five throws, two hitting the container, one skimming off the side and two close misses.
I then realized what Joe was trying to do: throw the ball into the hole in the can facing him. The hole is 14 inches wide and 7 inches high. After about 10 throws, Cam Cameron yelled: "You put the ball in that hole from there, and there will be no [offensive] meetings tonight." Cam then looked at me and said: "If he gets it in that small hole, it should be on YouTube." The next throw was about 8 inches high. Then, bam, dead center. Anquan Boldin looked over at Cam: "No meetings tonight!" (They did end up meeting, but not as long, and Anquan said that Cam still owes them.)
Yes, good vibrations. And, soon, we'll all get to see how good this Ravens team can be. Let's enjoy this kickoff week. It's about to get real. Can't wait.
Talk with you next week.
Kevin Byrne, a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.