Chemistry examination

The Baltimore Sun

The Ravens have a rookie quarterback and a young offensive line. They have a mostly new coaching staff with a rookie head coach. And they have most of those unhappy veterans from a year ago who were happy to see the former coach leave.

It's a good mix of young and old, and the chemistry could come together if the Ravens get off to a good winning streak.

And if they don't, there could be problems at the Castle. The Ravens could implode.

"If we don't get off to a good start, I believe we can handle it," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "It's always easier to start off with a new coach by winning because he is preaching a new philosophy. Everybody listens more when you're winning, and that's just the nature of the beast.

"But we're prepared that if it doesn't happen that way, we're going to right the ship."

John Harbaugh is in a difficult situation, but not one any different from any new coach. The Ravens wanted a different philosophy from the laid-back approach used in previous seasons.

They wanted more intensity, but Harbaugh has turned it up several notches. The practices have been physical and the meetings long.

He demands that everybody put in extra time on the practice field and in meetings.

Players have privately complained about their legs being tired and that the demands are too much. But Harbaugh hasn't backed down and

at times has directly challenged the manhood of certain individuals.

This is definitely a new approach and has caught some of the Ravens by surprise. If they can win early and gain some momentum, it will be easier for the Ravens to buy into what Harbaugh is selling.

And if not ...

It's hard to change the culture of a team. It can take months, but in most cases, years. Harbaugh won't have any trouble gaining the support of young players. For some of them, he is the only NFL coach they've worked for. They don't know any other way.

If the team starts losing, the problems will come with the veterans but not the well-seasoned guys like Ray Lewis, Derrick Mason or Trevor Pryce. They're too smart and did their homework on Harbaugh. They prepared for his hard-core work ethic.

Harbaugh is well aware of what can happen. For him and this franchise, 2008 isn't all about wins and losses. It's about implementing his philosophy and laying the groundwork for the future.

He knows this could be a long season, filled with more valleys than peaks. The Ravens play one of the toughest schedules in the league, and it gets extremely difficult after the bye Nov. 9.

The tone might well be established early in the season.

"Getting a win, or wins, is vital," Scott said. "It gives you momentum going into the next game, and it gives the young offense something to build on as it develops. As a defense, we have to take it up a couple notches, try to get the turnovers and get the offense as many possessions as possible."

Defense could be where the problems start. On that side of the ball, the Ravens have a lot of dominating personalities.

Those players are used to winning and aren't shy about hiding their feelings. That's where the Ravens also have the bulk of their players in the last year of their contracts or who have one year remaining after this season.

Last year, the team fell apart.

"I think last year we kind of separated a little bit," defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said. "This year we're a lot closer. I feel that from our coaching staff, and [I feel that] with the players being around each other, staying at the hotel, hanging out, and our veterans helping out our rookies a lot more, the team is just a lot closer this year."

The rules and regulations are in place. So are the offensive and defensive systems. Besides the outcomes, Harbaugh is looking for players who want to work within the system for years to come.

"It was a new chapter when the new coaching staff went in," Mason said. "All things that were old were gone - the majority of them anyway, except for the players and the front office. Of course they were going to bring a new attitude coupled with the attitude that we already had as players. We want to win. They want to win as coaches. When you combine them both, it's something very special."

Especially if the Ravens start winning early.

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