The Ravens arrive in Westminster today for their annual camp at Western Maryland College (that’s what my diploma reads, and I refuse to call it anything else). This is rookie head coach John Harbaugh’s first training camp with the Ravens and it’s been advertised as a tough one. For instance, all the players will co-habitat with each other (not that there’s anything wrong with that) at the team’s hotel for the entire camp, unlike in past years when veterans were allowed to sleep at home, spend time with their wives, put their kids to bed, help out around the house…you know, sissy stuff like that. By the way, I hear owner Steve Bisciotti is following suit by making the veterans join him courtside for Maryland basketball games vs. Delaware and Holy Cross, as opposed to only treating them to the big ACC games.
I’d attend Harbaugh’s inaugural camp personally, but it’s just too hot for me to head up 140 this week and I’m afraid my recurring dream of still owing a term paper before I’m able to graduate will become a reality if I run into any of my old professors. That, and I’m fearful that Harbaugh, tough guy that he is and all, will lash out at the fans and make them run wind sprints “instead of sitting on their fat butts like a bunch of old ladies.” Besides, a few times when I’ve attended camp in the past, I almost dozed off and fell out of the bleachers. It’s way too dangerous.
So here are my camp observations from the comfort of my air-conditioned office:
Taking One for the Team: Harbaugh needs to send a clear message to his players that Camp Cream Puff (as Sun columnist Mike Preston liked to call it) is over. I say that means running suicides until one of the players suffers brain-damaging heat exhaustion. Look, the Ravens aren’t going to compete for the Super Bowl this year and Harbaugh is going to have to churn the roster before it truly becomes “his” team. So what better way to do that than by letting the excessive Westminster heat boil the blood of some poor player? Not only would the Ravens trim their preseason roster without the always awkward visit from “The Turk,” but everyone would know for sure that Camp Cream Puff is a thing of the past. Maybe Preston can use his infamous wit to re-dub it Camp Heat Stroke, or something clever like that.
Quarterback Competition: If I hear one more person claim that this year’s competition will be “real, unlike that charade in 2003” when Kyle Boller was named the starter, I’m going to burn my Wally Richardson jersey. I guess everyone has been brain-washed by listening to the talking heads claim for the past five years that “Boller should’ve been wearing a baseball hat and holding a clipboard,” but, honestly, what choice did the team have? Without wasting too much time on ancient history, let’s just remember that Chris Redman was coming off a shoulder injury and wasn’t fully healthy until basically last season (and his performance in 2003 when Boller went out with a knee injury vs. the Rams should’ve shown everyone why he wasn’t worthy of starting the season), and the only other quarterback in camp that year (Anthony Wright) had started just five NFL games and had an average quarterback rating of 46 at that point in his career. It wasn’t Boller’s salary or former coach Brian Billick’s ego that thrust Boller into the starting role – it was simply necessity.
Now with that ugliness behind us, this summer’s camp should make for a very interesting battle, as the position is, by all accounts, wide open. Each candidate brings a different attribute to the table (whether it be Boller’s experience, Troy Smith’s moxie, or Joe Flacco’s first-round pedigree), but you really have to wonder if the competition will strictly be about football, or if outside factors will play a role. Wouldn’t you love to be a fly-on-the-wall when Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron (and probably also Bisciotti, Dick Cass, Gary Williams and Jimmy Patsos) are making the final decision on the opening day starter? It’s pretty intriguing when you think about it.
They’ll never admit it, but Boller’s baggage has to enter into the equation. Even if he out-performs the other two at Camp Death March (or whatever hilarious moniker is attached to it by Preston), Boller will be a hard sell to the fans of Baltimore. Likewise, they’ll be reluctant to be accused of making the same mistake as they made with Boller, which means they won’t rush Flacco into the starting role in Week One.
So with the Boller “issue” impossible to ignore and Flacco too green, the job becomes Smith’s to lose. After all, Smith has the players on his side, which is always an important factor in this organization’s decision-making (just ask Billick). In addition, he saw some action last year and started two games, but there’s not enough evidence to make a definitive decision on his future. So the team can always use the crutch of “we know what Kyle can do; we just need to see more of Troy in live games” in explaining their reasoning behind making Smith the starter.
You heard it here first: barring injury, Troy Smith is the starting quarterback for your Baltimore Ravens.
Brett Favre Watch: Future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre should be arriving in Westminster any day now. I haven’t followed the situation closely, but gauging from what I’ve skimmed in the local paper and over-heard at local watering holes, we’re a lock to get Favre, right? From what I understand he wants to be here and once the details are worked out, the Ravens suddenly become Super Bowl contenders, right?
But seriously, after enduring years of “If the Ravens would’ve only kept Trent Dilfer…” garbage, my limited time for catching up on the local sports scene has been dominated in recent weeks by this baseless, pointless and down-right embarrassing fantasy of Favre playing for the Ravens. I won’t add to the wasted ink and cyberspace that has been devoted to this non-issue by citing all the reasons why Favre coming to Baltimore makes absolutely no sense.
What I will waste a few seconds of your time on, however, is pondering this penchant that Baltimore has for living in a dream land. Why are we so focused on the “what if” instead of the “what is”? How many years have we been crying for a home-grown franchise quarterback? Yet when the Ravens finally pull the trigger and draft a top QB prospect, the kid’s maiden off-season is dominated by manufactured rubbish about the team adding a 38-year-old gunslinger whose quarterback rating topped 73 in only one of the past three seasons.
Of course, as one friend put it, “this is the town that was calling Brooks Robinson ‘the best third baseman who ever lived’ while Mike Schmidt was hitting 500 home runs,” so what should I expect?