5 Things We Know ...

... And 5 Things We Don't

Ravens Training Camp

August 23, 2009|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

When training camp broke a year ago, the Ravens barely knew their head coach, much less their starting quarterback.

Now, after three weeks of scorching heat and hard-hitting practices, the team ends training camp today with a firm grasp of its identity and goal.

"We got our eye on something, and everybody sees that," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "When one guy wants to take a day off from practice, there's 10 to 15 guys picking him up and saying you can't. The vibe is different this year because everybody has this taste in their mouth."

Still, the Ravens know they have three weeks until the Sept. 13 season opener to improve and answer some lingering questions.

Runners-up to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC, the Ravens carried their momentum to McDaniel College this past month. Lewis, who has been with the Ravens since their inaugural season in 1996, said this was one of the best training camps in team history.

While other teams already have lost starters for the entire season, the Ravens actually added one since arriving in Westminster. Derrick Mason came back from retirement on the third day of camp, boosting a suspect group of wide receivers.

The team's vaunted defense showed no signs of regressing under new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. The Ravens shut out the Washington Redskins in their preseason opener, which ended with Lewis handing the game ball to Mattison.

This is a different atmosphere from last year at this time, when John Harbaugh was still an unproven head coach and Joe Flacco was the third-string quarterback.

The Ravens hoped they would be "a really good team" last year. Now, as Harbaugh said during the final days of camp, they know they are.

"We don't look at it like we're good enough here, not good enough there, we need help here, we don't need help there," Harbaugh said. "We just want to make everything better. If we're the best Ravens we can be, we'll be plenty good enough."

The Ravens haven't raised only their play in camp. The volume has been ratcheted up a notch.

No longer is the Ravens' offense a verbal punching bag for a defense that prides itself on swagger.

"It's amazing the trash that Joe [Flacco] talks to Ed [Reed] and me now," Lewis said. "From a defensive standpoint, that's what we're talking about. We want them to come back at us."

The Ravens wrapped up camp on a lighter note, when comedian Mark Curry performed a 55-minute set on the second-to-last night. The star of the TV sitcom "Hangin' with Mr. Cooper" had almost everyone in tears after he poked fun at the likes of Lewis and Ozzie Newsome.

The next day, as the players suited up for their final practice of camp, they went past a sign at the team hotel that read: "Play Like A Raven. Finish Strong."

"I feel like we had a great camp," tight end Todd Heap said. "We're right where we need to be. As a team, we can get better. But I think our makeup and where we're headed is right on par for what we want to do this year."

Five things we know

* The defense is deep. There are six defensive tackles who have starter potential. There are five linebackers on the bubble for the Ravens who might have already made the roster for other teams. And Evan Oglesby, the nickel back in the AFC championship game, will have a tough time getting onto the 53-man roster.

It would be hard to name another season in which the Ravens were this loaded at every defensive position. Maybe it shouldn't be a surprise that there will be 26 scouts from other teams at Monday's preseason game. They will probably be keeping an eye on the players that don't make the Ravens' final cutdown.

* The running backs present a dangerous tandem. If Ray Rice is the most improved offensive player in camp, Willis McGahee is not far behind. In his second season, Rice is running hard and with confidence. He is primed for a breakthrough season. After a disappointing effort last year, McGahee came to camp in great shape, an indication that he arrived with more determination. A motivated McGahee is a dangerous one.

* Ed Reed is ahead of last year's curve. The Pro Bowl safety was a question mark throughout camp last year when he didn't play a snap until the regular season. But this year, he delivered a hit in the first practice of camp, a sign that he is not worrying about the nerve impingement in his neck, and played two series in the preseason opener.

The Ravens have urged him to wear a red, noncontact jersey as a precaution. But Reed, who said the neck is still sore, prefers to wear the white one so Flacco can't spot him and throw in the other direction. Reed wants to win in practices as much as games.

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