Are you prepared for winter? The question may sound ridiculous as we sweat out hundred degree heat, buy fireworks to celebrate Independence Day and watch the Orioles continue to freefall from their lofty perch atop the American League East. In three weeks the march towards an early February trip to New Orleans begins for the Baltimore Ravens. Technically it began as soon as Coach Harbaugh wrapped up his post game speech after the gut wrenching loss in the AFC Championship.
In three short weeks the veteran purple and black will strap on their pads and walk through the door onto the practice field at The Castle in Owings Mills. Preparing their bodies for the rigors of another NFL season, carrying with them the fuel of what should have been and what will be again. Wide-eyed rookies will get their first taste of life in the league. The life beyond new cars, new homes and signing bonuses, this is the life where those checks and most importantly respect from the aged veterans who years ago were once in their cleats is earned. Of the players most often forgot, until they make or foul up a play, the undrafted. A group of players fighting for a spot any spot on the roster. In three weeks their sweat soaked, bloodied bodies will be attached to names many of us will have forgotten or worse yet never even have known. This is training camp.
Like every team in the NFL the Ravens have many questions to answer as they prepare for camp. Number one question surrounding the team appears to be new contracts for parts 1 and 1A of their offense, Joe Flacco and Ray Rice. Flacco who is in the final year of his rookie contract is expecting and has earned an extension with the team. Whether you love or hate Flacco’s swagger as the “best quarterback in the NFL”, he has been able to accomplish in four years what few quarterbacks have been able to do in a career. Meanwhile Ray Rice has already begun his holdout until he receives a new contract. The team has until July 16 to sign him into a new extension or he plays the 2012 season under a $7.7 million franchise tag, $6 million less than Adrian Peterson will deposit this coming season. Even Arian Foster, who most experts thought was Rice’s counterpart last season, will earn $8.7 million. The Ravens would benefit by getting these deals done by the deadline as it would allow them to adjust their salary cap space. The purple birds are the team with the least amount of cap space in the league, $606,000 total.
Position battles are always fun and stressful to watch. How long will Matt Birk last? For an offensive line that allowed a total 41 sacks last season are the pieces in place to keep Flacco off his back-o? Is Bobbie Williams capable of replacing Ben Grubbs at left guard or will the rookie out of Iowa State Kelechi Osemeli roll off the tongues of Ravens fans by week one?
Defensively is Paul Kruger ready to fill the hole left by Jarret Johnson who “bolted” for San Diego as a free agent? And now with Terrell Suggs out for an unknown amount of time the pressure is on for this year’s first draft pick Courtney Upshaw to make his Charm City debut. What progress will we see from the enigma that is Sergio Kindle? Of course what is training camp talk without an Ed Reed controversy? It seems almost a right of summer as leaving a larger than normal bar tip at Seacrets.
Lee Evans is gone but the memory of what happened last January is still frozen in your mind, for this year’s Ravens team it serves only as a reminder of why they have to finish. Finish every block, every tackle, every pass, every play, FINISH. In three weeks the march to February begins. Now excuse me while I make another margarita!
BONUS: Do you want to attend training camp? Click here to enter the lottery to attend one training camp practice at the Under Armour Performance Center or the practice held at Stevenson University. All lottery submissions must be made by Friday, July 13 at 5 p.m., and the Ravens will contact fans who are chosen for these practices no later than Thursday, July 19.