I've always liked the name "Owings Mills," but try saying it while eating a Fig Newton. Owings Mills is the town in Maryland where the Ravens work and work hard. The facility is a beauty, with a large lobby covered in dark-paneled wood and purple and white flowers lining the entrance to the practice field. But don't let the petunias fool you. The vibe here is all business. I've had some great conversations with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome over the years, but my all-time memory might be a long ago sit-down with Mike Singletary. He was a linebacker coach with the Ravens for a bit, and he wore glasses that framed the most intense eyes I have ever seen. When Singletary talked about his love of football, of teaching players the finer points of the game, his voice rose into a boom. The guy is into his craft. You've probably heard.
I was impressed with how mature Flacco looked Thursday in Owings Mills, how comfortable he seemed as the leader of the Ravens offense. Despite the occasional criticism from the outside, his outlook for 2011 is positive. For starters, head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron are allowing Flacco to have a louder voice in putting together the Ravens' gameplan. Flacco sees it as a natural progression. He also doesn't shy away from the challenge of raising his level of play.
"You definitely have more of an opinion," Flacco says of his input into the offense. "The other thing is, we have a lot of young guys on the team. They need someone out there to help guide them around and coach them up -- other than a coach. That's a big job for me."
Safety Bernard Pollard, who spent the last two seasons in Houston, is a physical hitter who should fit nicely in the Ravens' scheme alongside Ed Reed. Last season Pollard made 111 tackles and forced four fumbles in 15 games. (He was also fined $40,000 for a hit on Tennessee receiver Justin Gage). During Thursday's practice -- his first with the Ravens - he intercepted a pass from rookie Tyrod Taylor.
With the Ravens getting the NFC West and four games against transitioning teams in Cleveland and Cincinnati, 11-5 feels right. Of particular interest are Baltimore's Week 1 and 9 matchups with the Steelers, Week 4 at home against the Jets, Week 14 at home against the Colts, and Week 15 at San Diego. These five games should say everything about the long-term prospects of the 2011 Ravens.