Clocks ticking, veterans sound `win now' alarm

ON THE RAVENS

December 16, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

The goal was set about two weeks before training camp opened. As a matter of fact, Ravens linebacker Bart Scott and several veterans were talking about it Wednesday morning before and after practice. It's a recurring topic.

`The veterans on this team are enjoying the ride," Scott said of the 10-3 Ravens. "They know they're at the part of their careers where it's almost over. I think when you're getting to the end, you start to appreciate things like practice and the relationships in the locker room. Those guys know the clocks are ticking as far as winning a Super Bowl, and they have that sense of urgency."

Veteran leadership might be the difference for the Ravens in the final stretch of the NFL regular season and into the playoffs. Of the team's 22 starters on offense and defense, eight have eight years of experience or more. All teams have talent, and there is little that separates the Ravens from Indianapolis, San Diego, New England, Jacksonville or Cincinnati.

By the end of the regular season, most of these teams will have had some kind of winning streak. They all will have team chemistry and believe they'll be in the Super Bowl. The difference for the Ravens might be in the number of veterans on the roster. Besides having 12 former Pro Bowl players among the starting 22, the Ravens have a key veteran at every position.

"It makes a big difference when you have a veteran at every position that has been successful, been a playmaker in the league," Scott said. "You mimic their actions. They come in and nothing rouses them. They don't get too high with the wins or too low with the losses. We bring in a guy like Trevor Pryce [defensive tackle] and he already has two Super Bowl rings, and put him with the guys who are left from the 2000 Super Bowl team.

"I've never won at anything, nothing, not at Yahtzee, not at checkers," Scott said. "I've never even been to a championship game, so I'm just jumping on the back of the old guys' coattails and holding on while the younger guys can hold on to me."

The younger players were aware of this Super Bowl mission as well. According to veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason, the unofficial spokesman of the offense, the Super Bowl goal was set during a meeting with some older players and coaches.

That's nothing new in the NFL. Most teams have the same goal, but for a lot of them it's unrealistic. Cleveland had no shot. Arizona? Oh, that's a joke. Green Bay had a better chance of going .500 than getting into the playoffs. After a 6-10 season in 2005, the Ravens weren't very optimistic until the team signed quarterback Steve McNair in the offseason.

"When you have veteran players, it's easier to prepare," said Ravens cornerback Samari Rolle, in his ninth season. "The veterans rub off on the younger guys. We have some future Hall of Famers among our older players, and the others are pretty good, too.

"We had the same goal last year, but when Steve came in this year, it just let everyone focus on doing their job. You only had to worry about defense instead of saying, `Oh no, here we go again.'"

In other words, the Ravens finally got a quarterback who was a leader and a tough guy. They hadn't had one since Trent Dilfer in 2000. McNair was the perfect complement for the fiery Mason, and left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who was more leader by example than by talking. He gave the Ravens' offense confidence, and the entire team a swagger.

The Ravens also brought in Pryce. He is charming and witty off the field, but a terror on it. He gave the Ravens a strong inside pass rush, but he has played the run equally well. You mix in Pryce with Ray Lewis and Rolle, and you have some really good teachers. It was evident during the first week of training camp. Not since moving to Baltimore in 1996 was there so much teaching going on.

Mason spent time after practice working with young receivers such as Demetrius Williams and Mark Clayton. Rolle and safety Ed Reed were breaking in young secondary players such as Dawan Landry and Ronnie Prude. Ogden, left guard Edwin Mulitalo and center Mike Flynn had teaching sessions with rookie guard-center Chris Chester and second-year guard Jason Brown.

The young players were soaking up the knowledge, and succeeding when they got the opportunity to play.

"Samari taught me how to position myself and use the right technique," Prude said. "Ray is a warrior, and I learned from him how to have fun, and love what I was doing.

"Trevor is a funny guy, but when it's time to get serious, he is all business. Steve is a quiet leader, and he does his talking on the field. He is classy, the professional who does what he has to do to put this team in the right direction."

Teaching, developing a sense of urgency and winning a championship were all part of the plan from the beginning. The Ravens want it to carry over until the end.

"Look at this team across the board, and there is a great mixture of young guys and guys who have played in some big games around the league," Mason said. "If there is ever going to be a time, it's going to be now. When you sign a bunch of guys to five- or six-year contracts, you have only three or four years to win a championship and then the window of opportunity is closed. The time is now for us. We can't worry about next year."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral

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