Today is a day for dreaming, the first day of Ravens training camp and the start of what is the annual highlight of being a Baltimore’s sports fan: NFL season.
Even though Las Vegas oddsmakers have put the Ravens “over-under” number at six wins, it’s perfectly normal and accepted to believe that new coach John Harbaugh has a miracle season in store for us this year and another Super Bowl trophy is waiting in Tampa for us in February.
If you can’t dream a little today, why bother being a fan, right? Today is a day to be a fan with blind faith because as we’ve seen in previous seasons, anything can happen in the NFL. But what miracles would be necessary to paint Baltimore purple in late December?
The myriad of problems last season led to an abysmal 5-11 campaign and the subsequent firing of Brian Billick. But today is a day for purple skies, blind faith and devotion to the laundry. It’s also the team’s first day of practice ever without Jon Ogden and the first in nearly a decade without Billick and Mike Flynn.
If you believe that the Ravens are a playoff team then you must believe that the team’s elder statesmen – Ray Lewis, Trevor Pryce, Chris McAlister, Derrick Mason and Samari Rolle – are all in for healthy and productive campaigns. You must also believe that the offensive line will gel immediately and that Ogden’s departure is not as devastating as first expected. And somewhere behind that stout line and a strong running game from Willis McGahee is a savior quarterback somewhere amongst the trio of Joe Flacco, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith.
The defense, as a whole, has always been a “sure thing” with Lewis and Rex Ryan and you could make an argument for some of the younger players like Antwan Barnes, Tom Zbikowski or Dewan Landry to step up and become a Pro Bowl-caliber performers. And with Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs in the prime of their careers, the defense gives the Ravens a chance to win every week. One thing is certain: Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata are the heart and soul of the defensive unit at this point and will make it difficult for teams in the AFC North to run the ball.
The biggest unknown in any training camp in any year are the injuries. Every drill and play of every practice is a risk for an untimely injury to a key player. If the Ravens can avoid decimating their depth chart, perhaps Todd Heap, Dan Cody, Dan Wilcox and several others will remain on the field long enough to fulfill their potential. The shorter the injury report the better the Ravens will be.
My purple playoff Christmas lights are a reach away. Expectations are low but my hopes are high. And the reality is that every season is fun when you’re a hardcore fan and you’ve followed the team from the minute they arrived in parking lot C from Cleveland in 1995.
As a fan, I’m heading out to Westminster today with blind optimism and silly dreams of a fun season and a potential championship. Even if common sense and oddsmakers want to cast reasonable doubt on the 2008 Ravens season, I’ll suspend belief for a little while. Or at least until they lose a few games.
Right now every NFL team is 0-0. The kickoff to the real season isn’t until Sept. 7 but the fun begins today. I’ll choose to savor it, especially since we’ve been waiting since January for it to start again.
Blow the whistle!