Harbaugh era set to kick off

OWINGS MILLS -- The John Harbaugh era officially kicks off Sunday as the Baltimore Ravens launch the season against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium. Will the first-year head coach be feeling any nerves as he leads an entire team onto the field for the first time in the regular season?

"I don't know," Harbaugh said. "I think it will be interesting and fun to experience. I'm looking forward to it. My guess is it won't be a lot different than the preseason or being on the sideline as an assistant.

"One thing as an assistant coach, there's a lot of pressure. I may tell you after the game that it wasn't even close, but I'm looking forward to seeing it."

Harbaugh's biggest influences as a coach come from his father, Jack Harbaugh, the late Michigan coaching legend Bo Schembechler, Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, Hall of Fame coach Sid Gillman and other connections to his Midwestern roots.

Harbaugh is a major proponent of the coaching principles outlined in Schembechler's book, Bo's Lasting Lessons, authored prior to his death in 2006.

"His dad, obviously, Jack Harbaugh, is probably the biggest influence on John," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "He's very similar to what you read in the book about Schembechler as well.

"He's just a great coach. He's himself, but he's influenced by who he's been around. You can definitely see Bo there in him."

Harbaugh, 45, coached the Philadelphia Eagles' secondary last season after building his reputation coaching special teams. A former Miami (Ohio) University defensive back who lettered once, Harbaugh grew up around the game as his father worked on Schembechler's staff and is an advocate of hard-nosed, disciplined football.

"Coach Harbaugh is his own man," special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. "But coach Harbaugh has drawn from a lot of different people and a lot of different sources to develop his own style. He's an everyman, but, at the same time, he's a leader.

"He's a very down-to-earth, common, easy-to-relate-to leader. Sometimes, that's difficult for people to do both. In my view, John has mastered the ability to communicate with everybody in the building and everybody on the team and stand in front and tell everybody exactly what they need to do. It's a special talent that he has."

Harbaugh had a simplistic, characteristically direct take on what he expects from the Ravens after replacing former coach Brian Billick, who was fired by team owner Steve Bisciotti following a 5-11 season.

"We want to win, but the way you win is to play a certain way," Harbaugh said. "We want to play like Ravens. We have a vision, and our guys understand what that means."

TURNOVER GAME: To defeat the Bengals today, the Ravens will need to do a much better job than they did last season of holding onto the football.

A year ago, the Ravens were swept by Cincinnati as they committed 12 turnovers in 24 offensive drives. There were eight fumbles and four interceptions.

In surrendering 48 points to the Bengals, 33 of them came off turnovers. The biggest culprit was former quarterback Steve McNair, who lost five fumbles and had two interceptions against the Bengals.

"We're not dwelling on what happened last year, and I guarantee you they aren't, either," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Yeah, they did some things against us last year. We're not going to worry about that."

DOWNWARD SPIRAL: The Bengals have won six of the past seven games against the Ravens, including three of four in the series in Baltimore.

The Ravens lead the overall series 13-11 and are 8-4 all-time against Cincinnati at home.

The Bengals have held the Ravens to less than 10 points in half of the past six games.

"I don't keep counting them, seriously," linebacker Bart Scott said. "The first one was a tough game. The second one was a little closer. We just want to get a win to start off the season classy."

FINAL WORD: Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs on whether the Ravens are rebuilding: "It is rebuilding, I'm just kidding. I guess if the shoe fits, wear it. We're just going to have to prove that we're not a rebuilding team. If we go out there and execute our assignments and play to the best of our ability, I think we'll be all right."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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