Ravens need to look in the mirror and focus

Dispel those salary cap wishes and NFL draft dreams for longer than a New York minute. Tasting the bland caviar of speculation about athletes currently on a college campus or wearing another franchise's uniform should be temporarily put on hold. There's still a football season to finish in Baltimore, albeit a harrowing experience including:

The requisite quarterback controversy, injuries to irreplaceable stars, players who underachieve, overachievers incapable of forever defying scouts' opinions and the thinning scalp of Ravens coach Brian Billick.

No, the alarm clock and calendar have not signaled the start of a free agency bonanza based on projections of $15 to $27 million in salary cap room, or Mel Kiper's frenzy of 40-yard dash times.

Regardless of whether the 4-6 Ravens pull off the unlikely feat of a third consecutive trip to the playoffs since being evicted from their old digs at ‘The Elite Franchise Penthouse,' jobs are at stake.

 When you're talking about families' livelihoods, there's no such thing as meaningless contests.

"The challenge for them is: Make me not worry about your position," Billick said. "Make me spend that draft choice or some of that $20 million in cap money on someplace else."

Development was supposed to be the prevailing theme for this season. Why should the Ravens deviate from that goal? They shouldn't.

The Ravens should keep favoring youth over experience in most cases. Nearly every veteran's play should be heavily scrutinized.

There shouldn't be many Ravens resting comfortably about job security with these obvious exceptions: Linebackers Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware and Edgerton Hartwell, tackle Jonathan Ogden, running back Jamal Lewis, tight end Todd Heap, guard Edwin Mulitalo, fullback Alan Ricard, defensive linemen Adalius Thomas, Kelly Gregg and Anthony Weaver, defensive backs Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Will Demps and Gary Baxter, specialists Matt Stover, Dave Zastudil, Joe Maese and Lamont Brightful.

 McAlister and Mulitalo are free agents worth securing to long-term contracts.

If wideouts Travis Taylor and Ron Johnson don't become more reliable or Brandon Stokley can't regain his health, they run the risk of being replaced.

In reference to all those dropped balls in a debacle loss to Miami, Billick said, "That's like fumbles. If it goes on long enough, they become sportswriters or commentators."

In the Great Quarterback Debate between Chris Redman and Jeff Blake, the question is presently moot because of Redman's frightening back condition and Blake's inconsistency. This decision goes far beyond Redman's 3-3 mark as a starter and Blake's 1-3 showing. Both passers have intriguing upsides, and assorted issues that spell danger.

The long-term outlook could brighten up if the Ravens are exacting in further purges or upgrades to the roster. They can't fall into traps of overestimating ability, or a scarier scenario of acquiring better players at the expense of locker room chemistry.

Certainly, Baltimore can say that they're only eight points shy of a 7-3 mark, but that would be self-delusional. Unhealthy behavior.

The truth hurt in losses to the Dolphins, Buccaneers and Steelers. Rebuilding tends to be a mixed dish of tough love.

This belief from Billick has to be shared by the entire organization, "We are going to improve and get back to the way that we were before."


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