Throughout almost every posting that includes any predictions for the Baltimore Ravens 2008 season, the comments alluding to remaining healthy permiate the basis behind their success. Last year's debacle of a season had injuries at nearly every critical position (LT, CB, DL) that were perhaps the major reason the team fared so poorly. My basis for their predicted success this season (see game-by-game predicitions in earlier postings) was that they would remain relatively healthy on both sides of the football, as unrealistic as that may be.
However, as the Ravens injuries continue to mount early in the pre-season, the cause for concern begins to ramp up. Earlier, I wrote that the injuries were such that should not affect the regular season, and it may actually help many players who otherwise never would have gotten this many reps in practice and exhibition games without those injuries to the intended starters. Now those comments about not affecting the regular season may not be true, as reports show that two of the Ravens key stars are hurt and may not make the opening game against the Cincinnati Bengals (gee, wouldn't they be sad?).
Running back Willis McGahee is in Miami having arthroscopic surgery on his knee, and although he says he'll be ready for game one, you have to wonder if he will be in game shape, regardless of his knee's shape. McGahee seemed out of shape, sucking wind at times last season, taking himself out of the lineup more than usual. Certainly missing most if not all of the exhibition season cannot help him prepare for the rigors of being the feature back. Thoughout the remainder of the pre-season and if necessary the beginning of the regular season, rookie Ray Rice figures to get most of the reps and carries as the offense's workhorse. Other playing time will open up for Cory Ross and fellow rookie Allen Patrick (Oklahoma), as well as more carries for fullback Le'Ron McClain. Running back PJ Daniels was put on IR and fullback Justin Green was released yesterday.
All Pro safety Ed Reed, while practicing with the first team in most of the drills, is wearing a red jersey, signifying that no one should hit him for any reason. His shoulder might be more hurt than originally thought and missing the opening game is no longer a longshot. While Dawan Landry is ready to go at the other safety position, the other slot will be a toss up if Reed is unable to start. We should get a decent idea of his backup based on the playing time of the possible replacements in this week's exhibition game against the Minnesota Vikings. The options look to be either veteran Jim Leonard or rookies Haruki Nakamura or Tom Zbikowski. Of the three, Nakamura has been the most impressive, seeming to always be around the ball every play.
In addition, the offensive line seems to be in total disarray, as the replacements for the injured starters are now injured and new guys being brought in every day, with the possibility of starting a couple of these guys more of a reality based on necessity rather than choice. I still can't keep up with all of their names, as a few of them were on the practice field when I visited Training Camp Saturday, but were so new that they didn't have names stitched on their jerseys and weren't even listed on the written roster I received that day!
All in all, injuries might just be a twist of luck (or an ankle), but all the better teams seem to make do and either they recover or other guys step up and take their place without a hitch. This certainly didn't happen in 2007 for the Ravens and I just can't count on that happening again until we see major improvements along both sides of the ball.