The month of voluntary and mandatory organized team activities (OTAs) ended last week the same way it began. Young players showed up, veteran players showed up primarily when they were required to, and the only time it was an issue was when one of us media types asked about it. "I think you look into it a little bit too much," was head coach Rex Ryan's reply on the next-to-last day.
Oh, he was "head coach Rex Ryan" that day because Brian Billick went to see his daughter graduate high school.
When it comes to spring minicamps, no news is the best news. If your roster is settled, and if you've got a core of veterans who can be relied upon to do the right thing when given the chance, then you've most likely got a winning organization.
On the other hand, if you have veterans complaining, threatening to no-show or going into hiding, and if you have a coach either dropping broad hints about who is and isn't present or calling out players outright, you're probably stuck in a serious losing cycle.
You are, for example, the Washington Redskins, with Joe Gibbs talking about how he wasn't "in contact" with some of his starters. Or the Green Bay Packers, as Brett Favre has gone into full diva mode.
It's the NFL offseason's chicken-and-egg question. Does losing come first and then contentious minicamps, or do contentious minicamps take you down the road to becoming a loser? How about winning - does the lack of distractions prove you're on the right track, or does being on the right track greatly reduce the possibility of distractions?
If you have to choose one, choose the latter. The more a coach can trust the leaders on the field and in the locker room, the better any team ought to be. Have doubts about what those leaders are doing, and you likely have doubts about where your season is headed.
The five weeks of work at the Castle in Owings Mills left nothing but good impressions about how the Ravens will report late next month at Westminster. The first voluntary OTA began with Billick answering the inevitable question this way: "I am comfortable with the guys who we have here. I am excited about that and those who aren't here. I am very comfortable knowing what they'll be able to do once they get here."
That could be a coach protecting his absent vets - but even that's refreshing, more than a sly, subtle condemnation would have been, and Billick isn't above that, even in his kinder, gentler phase. However, this came off as sincere. The players began rewarding his faith immediately, because the next person to talk to the media that day on the practice field was Steve McNair.
Two weeks later, in came more vets to the voluntary session, including Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister. When they all were required to come the week after that, they showed up looking close to camp-ready, particularly Ray Lewis.
His name was the one dropped constantly throughout the week, usually framed as: Should anyone worry about Ray not being here? It was not out of line to ask, not after last spring, when Lewis was out of sight constantly, surfacing only, it seemed, to plant more seeds of dissension.
It proves the theory: The Ravens' troubled regular season bled right into spring. Nothing seemed all that promising, not until the day they acquired McNair.
This year, Lewis showed up looking as if he has spent the offseason in a time machine. Everybody who talked that day, talked about how Lewis set the tone for the rest of the players. With the freedom Billick and Ozzie Newsome give them comes great responsibility, and nobody, it appears, took advantage of them and made them look bad.
Jonathan Odgen, after contemplating retirement, looked great. Derrick Mason, bitter at the end of last season, looked great. Terrell Suggs, in the midst of contract talks, looked great. Willis McGahee, brand-new, was there on Day One, and so was Bart Scott, who still approaches the game like an undrafted free agent, instead of an entitled Pro Bowl player.
Young, old and in between, they took their cues from one another and they didn't let one another down, regardless of their varied personal circumstances.
This is no attempt to draw a straight line from Owings Mills in May to Glendale, Ariz., in February; there is no such line. Remember, it wasn't that long ago that the Orioles were looking sharp and getting along in the clubhouse.
But with these Ravens, if they're at ease with what the players are doing to prepare for the season when they're out of the organization's sight, then we all should be at ease, too. July 29 is closing in on us fast. We'll find out soon enough whether that ease is justified. It has been so far.
Points after -- David Steele
It's too bad these just-concluded NBA Finals were one of the least viewed ever. That means that, a decade from now when LeBron James wins his fourth or fifth championship ring, fewer people will be able to claim they saw that horrendous first trip there.
The NBA has been the topic of widespread, nonstop, high-volume debate for two months over bad ratings, controversial suspensions, underwhelming teams and star players and the general state of the game. Meanwhile, the NHL gazes longingly at them, wishing someone would talk about them that much.
Your choice: become rich and famous for winning Olympic gold as a swimmer, or for taking off your clothes in public. The choice Amanda Beard made either says a lot about her, or a lot about the rewards for being an Olympian.