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Separating reaction from overreaction in the preseason

The preseason is often an exercise in futile overreaction. Still, that doesn't mean it can't be fun as we look for evidence that past troubles are past or for the next unheralded player to shine on the big stage.

Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

It is human nature to get excited about what meager amount of football we have been granted so far by the NFL gods.

We are wandering nomads in an arid desert, desperate for the life-giving water of the NFL after a six-month banishment.

But right now, we're seeing the mirage of an oasis on the horizon. In the absence of real water, we invent the illusion of it.

Oh sure, there was lots to like Thursday — more to like than not like most definitely. It was fun. I'd be lying if I said I didn't enjoy Lorenzo Taliaferro ramming into the 49ers, or that the first touchdown drive was like a gulp of air after the offensive drowning of 2013. In fact, I went back and watched some preseason 2013 film and let's just say that the difference was noticeable at times (though far from conclusive). For a team that very much wonders about its ability to field a third cornerback, it was comforting to see someone stand out. For an offense that too often lost yards rather than gain them last year on run plays, it was galvanizing to see the opening drive feature consecutive successful ones.

Yet, there was equally as much that told us nothing one way or another. The rampant speculation is actually the fun part — there are no consequences yet for what happens. The only consequences are for the players themselves — some are playing for their jobs, which is largely determined in practice under the coaches' watchful eyes, not on the preseason game field in front of the cameras, though it never hurts to translate your improvement to the games. As Brian Billick has said: while coaches will never admit it, at least 45 of the 53 spots are already decided before camp begins. Preseason games, and by extension training camp, are about determining the final five to eight names to fill out the roster and practice squad.

However, preseason in the NFL unfolds far more dramatically among us fans. The excitement builds and often the overreaction takes over. The excuses for something bad start flying. For the good, fans invoke it as a sign of Manifest Destiny. And all in between.

The truth is sadly less compelling. Deep down we know that until the bullets become live, we don't know much. And they are blanks right now. But it's still entertaining to see guys that in all likelihood will never be heard from ever again except for those lucky few who do just enough to hang around. That's something to appreciate, because to arrive at this point is not easy even should it end in a final conversation with John Harbaugh that the dream might be dead. The human component is easy to forget as the roster is culled down to 53. We root for the undrafted free agent because ultimately we know his chances in the NFL are practically zero.

It's helpful to remember that with teams and players nothing is ever as good — or as bad — as it seems. This is true on the whole season for that matter. Rarely do you get the full measure of a team in a 16 game sample — that's what makes the NFL so much more compelling than its counterparts. Unlike the NBA, where you are provided 82 chances to show your mettle and thus the favorites invariably wind up competing in the Finals, the NFL routinely features teams that are scorned by onlookers who then proceed to generate upsets and even win the crown.

And if we know less than we like to think after 16 games, we know much less in the preseason, especially about men who mostly have no NFL game experience and who are just hoping not to do anything that gets them noticed and cut.

That is why they play the games after all. Because you don't truly know what these men are made of until they are thrust into a single, cohesive team, the bullets live, and the outcomes final.

So, let's enjoy it for what it is, our first taste of football and a chance to watch our team without worrying about the "W" or "L" next to the score. Take pleasure in seeing unheralded players take on the impossible task of fighting for a precious roster spot in a league that cuts no less than 1,000 players a year. More than likely they will fail.

However, they need not be undefeated, but they must be undaunted.

As for our team, time will tell on the 2014 Ravens, because it always tells.