When the last of the Ravens veterans reported to training camp Tuesday, the vibe around the team’s facility was familiar. “Like the first day of school,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said.
The circumstances surrounding their 2022 season, however, are decidedly foreign. After a year so riddled with injuries that former defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale likened it to Netflix’s gory “Squid Game” series, the Ravens know they have to move past the dismal end that defined their 2021.
Six straight losses, including four without injured quarterback Lamar Jackson. An 8-9 record, only the second losing season during coach John Harbaugh’s tenure. And no postseason appearance for the first time since 2017.
“It makes you hungry,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said Tuesday. “I don’t like having a bad taste in my mouth. I know the last game of the season [a 16-13 overtime loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers], it didn’t end how we wanted to, and we didn’t make the playoffs. So the only thing on our minds right now is just getting ready for these preseason games. Go in there and just get off on the right foot and just get off on the right foot and just be better than what we were last season.”
A less crowded injury list will help. Jackson, sidelined last season by a bone bruise in his ankle, is healthy and expected to participate fully amid ongoing contract negotiations. But left tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle), running backs J.K. Dobbins (knee) and Gus Edwards (knee), outside linebacker Tyus Bowser (Achilles tendon), cornerback Marcus Peters (knee) and safety Ar’Darius Washington (foot) are on the physically-unable-to-perform list, meaning they haven’t been cleared to practice. Edwards is already considered questionable for Week 1.
Rookie tight end Charlie Kolar, meanwhile, is dealing with a possible sports hernia that could require surgery, and rookie outside linebacker David Ojabo (Achilles), an unsigned second-round pick, won’t be ready until at least midseason. And despite the Ravens’ revamped approach to training camp — a later start time, more stretching, fewer one-on-one sessions — training camp injuries are inevitable.
But inside and outside Owings Mills, there is faith in the team returning to the playoffs. According to DraftKings, the Ravens are slight favorites to win the AFC North, ahead of even the Cincinnati Bengals, who swept the Ravens last season and stormed to a Super Bowl appearance.
“If [missing the playoffs] don’t give you a little bit of edge, I don’t know what will,” Campbell said. “There’s a bad taste in your mouth the whole offseason, so when you’re preparing and training, you kind of have that taste in your mouth the whole time. When you lose in the playoffs, you have a bad taste in your mouth. But you knew, like, ‘OK, we were close.’ But when you don’t even make the playoffs, I mean, it’s a little different. It gives you a little bit more of an edge when you’re going through your training camp — and not just training camp, but the preseason workouts and just trying to get ready for this moment.
“So I think we’re in a good place, though. I think we know what we can be. And that’s what’s most important, is, OK, the pieces are there. Now it just comes down to execution, our development, from now until the season starts, and then just going out there and earning our way. So we’re in a position where we know it’s going to be a lot of work. It’s not going to be easy. We’re going to have to roll our sleeves up and get dirty. But I look in the guys’ eyes and I see a whole lot of guys who are ready and willing. So I’m excited.”
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The next step comes Wednesday, when the team will hold its first full-team practice. On Saturday, the Ravens return to M&T Bank Stadium for an open practice. On Aug. 11, they’ll welcome the Tennessee Titans to Baltimore for their preseason opener. After last year’s disappointments, the team knows it can’t afford to skip any steps in its path back to prominence.
“The word that comes to mind is excitement,” tight end Mark Andrews said. “It’s kind of the start of getting down to the real business. We have a lot of goals and aspirations, and for us, it’s being the most disciplined team, being focused on the details during this time and being a hungry team, which we will be.”
Preseason, Week 1
Thursday, Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM