Even a sloppy debut by Ravens will teach fans something

August 10, 2011|By Kevin Cowherd

Ravens fans, don't drive yourselves crazy Thursday night.

Don't tune into the preseason opener against the Philadelphia Eagles and slam the remote against the wall the minute the Ravens screw up.

Don't yell at Joe Flacco if the pocket collapses and he has to scramble like a wounded dromedary and gets nowhere.

Don't jump on your laptop and start orchestrating another "Cam Must Go" campaign if the offense looks shaky.

If you do, you'll be wasting a lot of emotional energy. Because I'll tell you this: the Ravens will screw up plenty of plays tonight. So will the Eagles. What we'll be watching from Lincoln Financial Field in Philly is post-lockout preseason football, which is an even uglier version of regular pre-season football, if that's possible.

Here's what you can expect Thursday: Quarterbacks and wide receivers struggling with timing patterns.

Botched blocking assignments on the offensive line. Rookies and newly-signed free agents who appear to have glanced at the playbook for the first time as they were coming out of the tunnel.

Are you getting the picture?

On the other hand, this is actually a game all of Ravens Nation is looking forward to. And when was the last time anyone said that about a pre-season game?

But after the lockout wiped out training camp in Westminster, this will be the first time most fans get a good look at the 2011 Ravens. And the new-look Eagles, for that matter.

By the way, think the Eagles are happy being called the new "Dream Team?"

Just because they signed Nnamdi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, Jason Babin, Cullen Jenkins, Vince Young and just about every other quality free agent in the phone book?

Not exactly.

In fact, when Eagles coach Andy Reid was asked the other day what he thought of this "Dream Team" business, he looked ready to throw up.

"Right now, we've got a lot of good-looking guys standing around watching," he told a morning talk show. "Obviously, dreams aren't reality. So the reality will come when I get my hands on them and we get into practice and start grinding here like the other guys are grinding. That's reality."

Translation: Please don't anoint us as Super Bowl-favorites. I don't need that kind of pressure. Plus now I can't break out my standard "No One Believes in You Guys" motivational speech from the coaches' handbook.

Getting back to the Ravens, we probably won't see Ricky Williams play tonight, which is a shame.

"I'm going to encourage him not to play," Coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday of his new running back. "I think that one practice out here is not enough to get ready and to keep him safe. So I think he kind of wants to play, but we'll probably hold him back."

Bummer.

I say that because the signing of Williams has generated more excitement among Ravens fans than anything else the team did this summer.

Go ahead, make all the lame pot jokes you want about the Ravens new running back. But I'll tell you this: when you see him in person and listen to his story, he's an impressive figure.

Forget the spacey-looking guy who ran away from the world and holed up in ashrams in India and medicine-man huts in Fiji and became the self-professed "poster boy for marijuana."

Actually, with his clean-shaven appearance and rippling biceps, Williams looks like something off a recruiting poster for the Navy SEALS.

Now the question is: Does he have anything left at age 34?

Can he be an effective backup for Ray Rice? Can he be anything like the 1,000-yard rusher he was with the New Orleans Saints and Miami Dolphins? That's what Ravens fans really want to know.

But they won't find out tonight. Instead they'll get a look at the other new face in the Ravens backfield, Vonta Leach.

The new Ravens fullback, Leach won't be nearly as exciting to watch as Williams, unless you're the type who likes to kick back with a good "Fundamentals of Blocking" video.

But if the Ravens get their running game going this season, Leach will play an enormous role on this team by steam rolling defensive linemen and linebackers and helping spring Rice and Williams.

It all starts tonight in Philadelphia. I wrote in Tuesday's column about the holes the Ravens have: no veteran backup at quarterback, no experienced No. 2 receiver, young, unproven tight ends, lack of depth at center.

But this is still a good team. It's a team with a legitimate shot to go to the Super Bowl.

Even if it doesn't look like a Super Bowl team Thursday night in Philly.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

(Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "Norris and Davis Show.")

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