There is a lot of football chatter going on out there 365 days a year, but now is the time of the year when that chatter turns into a roar. With training camp just weeks away, Ravens fans will be hit with all variety of predictions, fluff pieces, and space-fillers with just a scattering of genuine news sprinkled in. As a reader who used to try to absorb all of it, I found myself looking and feeling pretty silly by October. One year I saved all the predictions and articles I dug up in August and found that it was almost a complete waste by the time the season started. However, I used that to figure out what sort of news you should keep your eye out for and what to let fate into the background as irrelevant. You won’t find any of the latter during BSR’s ramped up Ravens coverage of course, but just in case you decide to read other publications as well, here are some of my personal guidelines.
Don’t listen to…
…players who say how “great” a part of the team looks.
They will tell you that the secondary is the best they’ve seen since their rookie year or they will tell you that this collection of players at that position or another is the best they’ve ever been around. If they are talking about the defensive line or another part of the team that is a known commodity, then sure, you can buy it. But as Ravens fans we have heard too many times about how great this or that will be, anchored by a bunch of players who won’t make an impact once the season starts. Remember, these guys are all co-workers, and it behooves them to say glowing things about their teammates. Some will predict amazing things, but you will hear the same thing for every team.
…players making preseason predictions.
If you put any stock in Derrick Mason or anyone else who says their team is Super Bowl bound. You will get that same story from players in Green Bay, Minnesota, New England, New York (both), Philadelphia, Dallas, San Diego, Cincinnati… I think you get the point. Every player thinks they are going to the Super Bowl in July and August. Unlike the previous note, I think they almost universally believe it when they say it, too. However, everything feels great when you don’t have opposition and there are no injuries. Fluky things happen during the season- remember when last season was set to be a Super Bowl season?
…(you can add to this any season record projection, list of potential breakout players, and fluff stories about a coach’s tough/relaxed approach to training camp, a team’s “new beginning”, a 4-team retread player looking for a fresh start, or a wide receiver/quarterback’s newfound chemistry)
Do pay attention to…
It seems benign at the time, and there is some unwritten expectation that every injury clears up in time for the end of training camp. Odd, huh? Every single tweak, break, tear, or surgery is all healed up by the time the curtain rises. Not so much. Players push themselves onto the field and when they do it too early, they suffer with long-term injuries that haunt them throughout the season. It is hard enough to stay healthy throughout the season- it is that much harder when players start out banged up. The Ravens should be on particularly high alert, given the age and injury history of major contributors like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin, and Todd Heap.
This is the kind of thing I thought wasn’t particularly important, but it matters in November when 1/4th of your starters have changed due to ineffectiveness or injury throughout the season. With the ongoing search for a consistent pass rush, secondary help, and a reliable tandem at the tackle spot (wherever Michael Oher winds up), there will be plenty of turnover. Who knows who will be next to Ray Lewis? To keep from having to Google just to know who is starting on your team, take a look at some random players if they show up on a profile. More than just knowing about your team, some of these individuals have great stories about how they came to the NFL and where they might contribute to the Ravens. Many of them won’t pan out, but I enjoy taking a look at some intriguing backups just so when I do see them, I know who I am rooting for.
…(you can add to this meaningful comments about offensive/defensive formations, players changing positions, or underperforming players)
Listen with Caution to…
…the Great Training Camp Story.
I know that there are always a couple unsung players who show up at camp and absolutely explode onto the scene, but most of them won’t be anything more than role players. The biggest hype I ever saw was over Mike Bell, the undrafted free agent running back from Arizona who burst on the scene in Denver a few years back. He was eventually cut and is now a complementary back with the Saints. A good player, but no one to salivate over. Every team will have one of those, but we don’t know anything about them until the season starts. The Ravens have been great at bringing in undrafted players, but be careful before you mistake a pleasant surprise for a meaningful contributor.