There was a time not so long ago when the opening of Ravens training camp was a good excuse for local fans to turn the page halfway through another disappointing baseball season, but times have changed.
When the Ravens begin workouts this week, they will be the ones trying to turn the page on a disappointing 2013 season and an embarrassing offseason everyone around the Under Armour Performance Center would like to forget.
Nobody wants to lead the league in tawdry off-the-field incidents — certainly not Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who has little patience for conduct that casts any shadow over the football operation. In his perfect world, the team's "Play like a Raven" mantra would extend beyond the playing field for everyone on the roster.
That hasn't been the case over the past six months. Five Ravens have been arrested since the end of last season, the most recent just last week when cornerback Jimmy Smith was cited for misdemeanor disorderly conduct.
Each time, the team has been forced into the awkward position of defending the player and decrying the behavior. Each time, the focus was diverted from the positive changes that the Ravens have made in an attempt to rebound from their 8-8 season and their first January without a playoff berth in the Harbaugh era.
There are still some open issues, most notably the interminable wait to find out what disciplinary action the NFL has in store for Ray Rice after his arrest for allegedly knocking his then-fiancee unconscious during an altercation at an Atlantic City, N.J., casino in February. There will still be some unwelcome questions during Harbaugh's early podium sessions, but the opening of preseason workouts and some of the extracurricular activities that the Ravens have planned for the early weeks of camp should bring football back to center stage.
The team will hold its first of two public workouts at M&T Bank Stadium on July 28 and entertain fans with a post-practice autograph session and fireworks show. The following week, the Ravens will host the San Francisco 49ers in their first preseason game and follow that with four days of practice featuring both teams, including a public workout on the afternoon of Aug. 8. The Ravens also will hold a public workout at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis on Aug. 4.
By that time — barring more off-the-field stumbles — the Ravens should be fully immersed in their preparations to open the 2014 season. That doesn't mean that all will be forgotten and forgiven, but it does mean the players will be preoccupied with the playbook and practice and the media will be more focused on the progress that new coordinator Gary Kubiak is making with the revamped offense.
There still are plenty of questions to answer about the team's ability to shake off last year's disappointing finish and climb back into the playoffs. The Ravens have no choice but to hit the ground in full sprint in training camp with the way the early-season schedule looks.
They will face each of their AFC North rivals in their first three games, which means they'll have the opportunity to get a big jump on the division with back-to-back home games against the Cincinnati Bengals and Pittsburgh Steelers to open the season. It also means that they face the risk of losing important ground if the the offense doesn't click right away.
The situation with Ray Rice could be a significant factor since he is expected to be suspended for the first two games and maybe more, but the Ravens appear to have enough depth at running back to operate Kubiak's offense efficiently. The bigger issue is how quickly quarterback Joe Flacco will adapt to the new system and how well he exploits his expanded receiving corps.
Everyone was upbeat throughout the organized team activities and the mandatory minicamp, but the Ravens have a lot of new players to assimilate both on offense and defense, so there is a lot that really isn't known about how they will stack up against the rest of the division.
It's time to start finding that stuff out, which hopefully will be a lot better than the stuff we wish we didn't already know.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" on Friday mornings at 9 on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.
©2014 The Baltimore Sun
Visit The Baltimore Sun at www.baltimoresun.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services