WESTMINSTER, Md. The last 10 days have been troubling for the Baltimore Ravens, but they’re not unprecedented.
The team has gone into a season with Super Bowl aspirations and seen things go wrong very early before. Nine years ago, the Baltimore Ravens went through one of the toughest Training Camp stretches they have experienced in their short history.
On consecutive days, the team lost Pro Bowl OT Leon Searcy (triceps) and reigning 1,000 yard rusher Jamal Lewis (knee) during practices at McDaniel College. The injuries left the team without two of their most significant offensive weapons entering a season where they had replaced their Super Bowl winning QB (Trent Dilfer) with a new starter (Elvis Grbac) they had hoped would ignite what was at times a dismal offensive football team.
As the season went on, it felt as though the Ravens never really moved past those initial blows. The offense showed little improvement, the teams rotated through replacement running backs, and were eventually dismissed from the playoffs by the Pittsburgh Steelers after earning a Wild Card berth on the final night of the regular season.
“You knew we had a strong chance to repeat as Super Bowl champions with (Lewis) as our workhorse” then Ravens WR Qadry Ismail told me. “However, when he went down it really became a challenge to keep guys’ spirits up to make that special run.” Ismail-now a radio color analyst for the team-went on to add “it felt like there was a black cloud over us with those two injuries.”
Ravens Senior VP of Public and Community Relations Kevin Byrne agreed, adding that the losses were more significant considering the team had made investments specifically for the purpose of upgrading the offense.
The loss of CB Domonique Foxworth to a season-ending torn ACL and LB Sergio Kindle to a head injury that will cause him to miss an indefinite timeframe hurt this Ravens football team both on and off the field.
The injuries hurt the team off the field because it is easy to get caught up in the negative things happening around the team. Injuries have piled up at individual positions-leading Foxworth to say to the media Friday that (secondary coach) Chuck Pagano “needs to go to church more or something.”
The injuries hurt the team on the field because they had definitive roles and were being counted on to carry a heavy load for the team. Foxworth returned as the team’s top Cornerback after a tremendous stretch to end the 2009 campaign, and Kindle was expected to play behind Jarret Johnson and help improve the team’s pass rush.
Both were expected to be important parts of a unit looking to improve on the 200+ yards per game allowed through the air a season ago.
The 2001 Ravens proved to be resilient off the field; but the on-field losses of Searcy and Lewis ultimately proved to be too much for the team to work past. The combo of Kipp Vickers and Sammy Williams couldn’t keep Grbac on his feet; with Randall Cunningham eventually forced to replace the injured QB. The Ravens rotated Terry Allen, Jason Brookins and Moe Williams at running back, with none tallying even as much as 700 yards.
The 2010 Ravens will almost certainly have no trouble surviving off the field; as coach John Harbaugh and LB Ray Lewis were amongst those who quicky pointed out that all teams must face adversity in the preseason. Harbaugh said “it happens to every team…there’s always bumps in the road.”
He’s right, as every NFL team will go through some sort of injury of off-field issue before Week 1. Not all will be teams with real Super Bowl aspirations, and not all will lose their top player at CB or their first pick in the NFL Draft. However, all teams will go through some sort of trouble. Seasons will be defined by how each team responds to the off-field trouble they find.
The 2010 Baltimore Ravens will look to move past their own current “black cloud” feeling with a team that is built much better to overcome injuries. While the team isn’t loaded with top talent in the secondary; the likes of Fabian Washington, Lardarius Webb (as long as he’s healthy), Chris Carr, Travis Fisher, Walt Harris and Cary Williams give them a veteran presence. They will not necessarily be forced to rush out and find the best free agent CB’s available-where names like Frank Walker and Fred Smoot are unlikely to give them the type of security necessary in the secondary.
The team is much more likely to allow their group of veterans (as well as 2nd year safety KJ Gerard and rookie Prince Miller) sort out the available jobs in the secondary. None are “the answer”, but all are potential contributors.
The Ravens will be hurt by the losses, but they are in much better shape than the 2001 team was to move past them.
With that being said, they could certainly use a break from the “black clouds” that have hung over Westminster.