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Ravens say title window still open

The Baltimore Sun

There still is a sense of an uncompleted mission.

A major key for the Ravens this NFL season will be whether they really believe they have enough left to make another serious run at the title, or was last year the end of a great opportunity?

So far, most of the players feel they can pick up where the team left off after their playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts and advance to the Super Bowl and win.

They aren't pretending. The Ravens believe they played a poor game against the Colts, the eventual Super Bowl champions, but still had the best team in the NFL. From defensive coordinator Rex Ryan to cornerback Chris McAlister, they keep saying that they have "unfinished business" in 2007.

"Everybody in our organization is ready to get that taste out of our mouth," Ryan said. "When you have a great season and win 13 games, but you feel like it was a disaster because you lose in the first round you played in. And the fact it was the Colts, and all that kind of stuff, and what it meant to the city of Baltimore, we all felt it, believe me. We're ready to get back and do our thing, and put ourselves in the same position this year. We expect to dominate this league, and put ourselves right back in position to do some damage."

McAlister said: "The energy around here is good, and it's good to be back around your teammates again."

To excel again, the Ravens will need fifth-year player Jarret Johnson to succeed in making the move from being in the defensive line rotation to starting at outside linebacker. The player he is replacing, Adalius Thomas, is one of the most versatile performers in the league.

But Johnson seems confident.

"There is no pressure. It's a challenge and I'm up for it," Johnson said. "I'm excited about the opportunity. I didn't lose much [weight], about 8 or 10 pounds. But I know that I will be standing up, not having my hands in the dirt as much, so I wanted to lose a little bit, move a little better."

Johnson says he knows the defense better than a few years ago, when he was learning on the fly.

"A couple of years ago, I knew where to be, but didn't know exactly what I was doing," he said. "Today, I know where to go and exactly why I'm there. I'm not the same player A.D. [Thomas] is. He can do more things in pass coverage. I can do the pass-cover thing, but I'm more geared toward the run. We're two completely different players, but have some similarities."

No frills for Gregg

Ravens defensive tackle Kelly Gregg signed a new, lucrative contract at the end of last season, and his teammates expected Gregg to show up driving a new, fancy car.

Instead, Gregg arrived at the team's training facility in a rented Ford Focus. He was harassed by his teammates. Gregg didn't mind because he has a Pontiac Grand Prix at home.

"I'm not really into cars. Some of these guys are into cars really big," Gregg said, smiling. "As long as it gets me from point A to point B, I'm fine with it."

Grubbs adjusting

Rookie guard Ben Grubbs, the team's top draft pick, sticks out among the offensive linemen. Usually in June, offensive linemen are still holding on to that added offseason weight. But Grubbs looks trim and in playing shape.

But if you watch him on the field, he looks hesitant and slow at times.

"Actually, on the plays, I'm doing pretty good, still having some mistakes, but for the most part, picking it up well," Grubbs said. "It's the techniques that haven't stuck with me yet, and I've got to keep drilling. For one, the players are better athletes than they were in college, and more powerful. I'm still thinking about things right now, but once I put everything together, I will be able to take steps forward."

Hitting the books

New offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel has been impressed with running back Willis McGahee's burst and acceleration. Now, it's just a matter of him learning the playbook. McGahee might get a crash course as quarterback Steve McNair did last summer.

"We're pleased," Neuheisel said. "You like the burst, that's what he brings. It's evident, at least in this kind of session where you don't have pads on. He has the burst and ability to get the ball in space, and make something happen other than what you block for. There are opportunities for him to make somebody miss, and turn a 5-yard run into a 25-yard run.

"Obviously, the summer will have to be a concentrated time much like it was a year ago with McNair," Neuheisel said. "You got to pick things up and be ready to go. You can't be learning on the run and saying we're ready to go by the time we get to [Cincinnati]."

Smith impressive

Team workouts have been conducted in only shorts and shoulder pads, but rookie quarterback Troy Smith has been impressive. He has a strong arm and moves around well. More importantly, he hasn't thrown a lot of interceptions.

Things might be different when the team is in full gear and all the players report, especially the defensive line. Because he is only 6 feet, there is a concern that a lot of Smith's passes will get knocked down at the line of scrimmage, which is one reason his stock dropped in the April draft.

But so far, so good for the former Ohio State quarterback.

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