"I thought our guys maxed everything out," John… (Evan Habeeb, USA Today Sports )
The Ravens were all smiles after their three-day minicamp last week, which could be an indication of how much confidence they have that they are on the verge of a big turnaround season or just how happy everyone is to get in a little beach time over the next month.
It has been a rocky offseason, but the new offense seems to be coming along nicely and most of the off-the-field unpleasantness of the past few months is behind, so coach John Harbaugh has plenty of reason to be upbeat with about four weeks to go before his team opens training camp.
"I thought our guys maxed everything out," Harbaugh said. "Our coaches did a great job. We're as far along as we could be at this point in time, and now [we're in] the next phase, which is rest, recovery and preparation for training camp."
Though Harbaugh clearly has grown tired of being reminded that the Ravens missed the playoffs last season for the first time during his head coaching career, there is no question that he spent time making sure his players don't forget how it felt to watch from afar while 12 other teams competed for the Lombardi Trophy.
That was reflected in the way the veterans went about their business during the minicamp, and it was articulated by several of the players during their post-workout podium interviews.
"I was disappointed with my first season from an individual standpoint to a team standpoint — 8-8 is the worst record that I've had as a professional in the National Football League in 10 years," defensive end Chris Canty said. "I want our team to improve, and anything that I can do to help our team improve — that's what I'm about."
Terrell Suggs called the postseason "agonizing."
"It was like, you've got to go back and question what you could have done better and how you not repeat that going into the next year and definitely don't have that feeling again," Suggs said.
The past is always prologue in professional sports, but guard Marshal Yanda said it matters only if you know how to learn from it and leave it behind.
"Last year is done and over with," Yanda said. "We've got a new offensive coordinator, new personnel, new guys — we're moving forward right now with the group that we've got. I like what we see. I like that we're all working hard. We're all [in this] as a group, and good or bad, you've got to move on. Two years ago was the Super Bowl. Last year we didn't do as well, but either way we're moving on. We're looking forward to this year and just getting it right this year. No doubt about it."
There is a lot to be said for an organization that was so unsatisfied with one .500 record in six years that it made dynamic coaching changes and rebooted its offensive scheme. It's also a counterintuitively positive sign that, faced with huge questions about the running game and offensive line, the front office focused the front end of this year's draft on the other side of the line of scrimmage.
Clearly, Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh have confidence that veteran center Jeremy Zuttah will help shore up the offensive line and Rick Wagner can settle into a starting role at right tackle. The running back situation will remain uncertain until Ray Rice finds out — probably later this week — whether or how long he'll be suspended for his domestic assault incident.
The Ravens spent part of the minicamp auditioning free-agent cornerbacks. They signed a couple of them to compete for backup spots and provide injury insurance in camp, but the outlook for the defense seems bright. Suggs and Haloti Ngata appear to be fully healthy, and the infusion of the team's three top draft choices — linebacker C.J. Mosley, tackle Timmy Jernigan and free safety Terrence Brooks — should have positive short-term and long-term implications.
"I like that mix," Suggs said. "I think that definitely makes for a great team to have young and veteran guys and guys that can grow up and come into their own. And we're just waiting to see what some of these guys can do, especially guys that have been waiting in the wings."
Of course, it's far too early to draw any sweeping conclusions. Too much can happen between now and the start of the 2014 season.
Former Ravens coach Brian Billick used to have a favorite saying about the folly of evaluating your players too soon:
"Never fall in love with a guy in shorts."
They'll be practicing in pads soon enough.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.