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John Harbaugh working hard to keep Ravens grounded, doesn’t care for preseason ‘noise’ | COMMENTARY

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has guarded optimism about his team in 2020.

His team is one of the favorites to win the Super Bowl, along with the Kansas City Chiefs and San Francisco 49ers. There are some publications that have predicted that the Ravens will be the next great team of the decade, and others have proclaimed that they have the No. 1 defense and No. 2 offense in the NFL.

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But after last season’s meltdown in the postseason, Harbaugh wants to keep his team grounded.

“I get all that. I’m provided with all those things,” Harbaugh said of the accolades. “I’ve also seen where Pittsburgh is going to win the division. I saw Cleveland has been picked by some people to win the division, as far as the changes they have made there. [I’ve seen] that Lamar [Jackson] is going to regress [and] our defense is going to regress. So, everybody says a lot of things; so it doesn’t matter.”

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“It’s all noise. Who cares?” Harbaugh said.

Championships aren’t won in the summer. Everyone knows the Ravens are loaded and primed for a serious run, but history has shown that a lot of teams don’t live up to expectations. The 2001 Ravens lost to Pittsburgh, 27-10, in the divisional round a year after winning the Super Bowl.

The current Ravens have their own playoff setbacks. They were eliminated in the wild-card round by the Los Angeles Chargers two years ago and got smacked around by the Tennessee Titans in a divisional-round game last season. In that contest, the Ravens got out-hit, out-played and out-coached.

It’s also safe to conclude that they were a little overconfident. They were playing at home after winning 14 of 16 regular-season games with the most effective running game in NFL history. Jackson was having a Most Valuable Player-type season and a lot of the Ravens’ victories were by lopsided margins. They scored more than 40 points in five games.

But then on Jan. 11, everything fell apart against Tennessee.

That’s why Harbaugh and the Ravens aren’t buying into the hype again. It’s great that Jackson’s face is on Madden and Sports Illustrated covers and the Ravens have a lot of players ranked in the Top 100 by the NFL Network.

Again, who cares?

How about winning a playoff game? Just one.

“I think right now it’s just going in everyday and attacking each and every day, trying to get better,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “I think the main thing with this team is we’ve got a lot of young players, and we’ve got a lot of talent coming back. So, we’re just getting in the facility each and every day, and working for one goal, and that’s to win a Super Bowl.

“But we’ve got to take that day by day, and one day at a time, and not look too far ahead.”

The Ravens have fewer holes to fill than most NFL teams, but they are going to need several rookies to step in and contribute immediately. Most of the focus will be on LSU linebacker Patrick Queen, the team’s top draft pick in April, who is expected to start at middle linebacker.

Queen appears to have all the skills to be successful, and word out of The Castle is that he is a fast learner with a strong work ethic. In previous years, there would be less concern about Queen’s development because he would have already participated in several minicamps and preseason games.

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But because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Queen’s exposure to the pro game has been limited. Other teams are in a similar situation, but they aren’t grooming a new middle linebacker who is also playing with two new defensive ends in Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe.

“I think that it’s definitely really difficult,” left tackle Ronnie Stanley said of the lack of camps and preseason games. Stanley was the Ravens’ top draft pick in 2016 out of Notre Dame and started immediately.

“Personally, coming from the offensive line in the trenches and that physical atmosphere, you really need to get used to it, because it’s a big step from college to the NFL,” he said. “It’s just the size of the guys you’re playing consistently. It’s just something you can’t really have a substitute for. That’s what we’re going to try to get these guys ready [for]. I think we have a good plan and we’re just going to stick to it.”

The Ravens are in a similar situation at right guard. If Ben Powers doesn’t win the job, they might be forced to use rookies Ben Bredeson or Tyre Phillips. They’ll want to get rookie Devin Duvernay into an early rotation with the receivers and eventually get another pair of first-year players, running back J.K. Dobbins and linebacker Malik Harrison, into the fold.

Finding the proper practice time will be a problem, even for a return specialist. Right now, it’s rookie James Proche’s job to lose.

“It’s a challenge,” Harbaugh said. “The veteran guys won’t be an issue; they’ve got a body of work. It’s the young guys, rookies [and] second-year players; they haven’t played as much. So, we’re going to have to put those guys in those situations as much as we can. It won’t be like a game. There’s nothing like a game. But practice — probably in football — you can approximate football.

“It’s a practice sport, it really is. We’ll put them in scrimmage situations, probably. We’ll have periods that are live. We’ll have that for the young guys. Not too many, but enough hopefully to get a good feel for where we’re at with those guys. It’s a great question, and I don’t think you’ll ever really know anything until we line up and play the real games. There will be a lot more questions that will be answered in the real games than ever before.”

It’s those questions that keep Harbaugh on edge. On paper, the Ravens seem to have a lot of answers, but pro teams are works in progress right now. The completion takes nearly six months and hopefully ends with an appearance in the Super Bowl.

The Ravens have a title on the immediate agenda, but it’s a down-the-road priority. Until then, they want to be confident, not cocky. That Titans’ loss is still fresh in the back of their minds.

“It’s both. I mean, it’s history — you move on and you move forward,” Harbaugh said of last season’s playoff loss. “But it informs us; shared experiences become part of your culture and part of what we grow into going forward. So, we take it with us, and it definitely motivates us, and we learn from it. You win or you learn, and we learned a lot from that game.”

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