Time for low-watt Ravens to switch on the intensity

On the Ravens

August 21, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

Mike PrestonTHE RAVENS' 20-14 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles last night would have been different if the game had been played in the air-conditioned training facility in Owings Mills.

It was too hot and balmy for the Ravens last night. When it has been real hot in training camp, the Ravens have gone inside. When it drizzles, the Ravens go inside. If there are too many Japanese beetles, the Ravens go inside. Shoot, they were a little tired last weekend, so they had Monday off.

Is this an NFL team, or the Girl Scouts?

Here's a suggestion for coach Brian Billick: He should reopen Camp Cream Puff. The moving vans should go back up to McDaniel College and unload the equipment again. Bring back two-a-days. Instill a curfew. Grow the beard again.

We understand Billick's Club Med philosophy. It has worked in the past. And while he might be saving some of these veterans for a stretch run in late December and early January, he had better win games in September and October first. The Ravens played last night like a team that doesn't practice, and it's apparent they haven't had enough repetitions to become cohesive yet, especially on offense.

That happens when two-a-day practices end about five days into a three-week training camp.

No one is predicting doom and gloom for the entire 2005 season. It's way too early for such a prognostication. But what you saw last night, for the most part, was a soft team without an edge yet.

It's all a fallout from training camp. Let's see, players who live around here were allowed to go home and sleep three days into training camp. There is no curfew. Veterans like Deion Sanders, Dale Carter, Ray Lewis, Orlando Brown and Chris McAlister were allowed to take days off.

It's the way the NFL training camps have evolved. The old camp models were from the 1950's and 1960's, when salaries weren't so lucrative and players had to drive trucks or taxis in the offseason to make a living.

But with such high salaries today, players can stay in shape year-round. Gone are the days when training camps were for six weeks, and two-a-days lasted the entire time. Gone are the days when you couldn't drink water, and salt tablets were as popular as Gatorade.

Almost every team has modified its training camp, but the Ravens are the Good Ship Lollipop. Billick will bring out all his statistics about snap counts and repetitions from minicamps, but this team needs to practice more.

Maybe the Ravens didn't have running back Jamal Lewis, guard Edwin Mulitalo and tight end Todd Heap in the lineup because of injuries, but a lot of their mistakes were mental, not physical. Twice Boller got hit hard in the first half, once because of missed communication between the tight ends and offensive tackle, and another time because a running back or offensive tackle failed to pick up a blitz.

Eagles running back Brian Westbrook turned a 10-yard pass from quarterback Donovan McNabb in the right flat into a 51-yard touchdown because there was no one in the immediate area. That put the Eagles ahead 14-0, and they soon began putting in the second team.

At least those things can be corrected with more practice and repetitions. So can the tackling.

On Westbrook's run, safety Chad Williams, linebacker Ray Lewis and cornerback McAlister all missed tackles. Sanders would have missed one, too, but he was too busy holding on the play. Safety Will Demps missed his share of tackles, too.

Overall, though, the Ravens can win with this defense. Offensively, they've got problems, an offensive line that still can't pass block and a quarterback who is struggling.

The Ravens will continue to build Boller's confidence, but privately they don't know what to expect from the third-year player. He had a disappointing performance for the second straight week.

He completed 10 of 15 passes for 88 yards and one touchdown in two quarters, but five of those completions came against the Eagles' second team. Against the first group, Boller was sacked twice, intercepted twice and fumbled once.

Like last season, he continues to hang his receivers out to dry on passes over the middle, and he still throws off his back foot. His mechanics are bad, his throws inaccurate.

Everyone knows that the Ravens have to play Boller. They've invested a lot of money and time in him, but it would be unfair to sacrifice this team for a third straight year if he continues to falter during the regular season. The window of opportunity for this team to win a Super Bowl will close in the next two seasons.

But Boller, like the rest of this team, needs more time together. Because there are some key veterans on this team, it's safe to assume they'll develop a sense of urgency once the regular season starts.

It's still a gamble, though. Sometimes a team can sleepwalk through most of the season. The Ravens played that way last night, approaching the game with about as much intensity as they practiced with in training camp.

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