It’s put up or shut up for ‘Next Man Up’

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Radio Corporation Sports

Sitting in the kitchen here drinking beer, eating Ledo pizza and watching the first #NFLTheTVShow presentation for the coming season. Ah, the glamorous life of the sports writer …

I haven’t believed the NFL since I was in the fourth grade when the New York Jets won Super Bowl III. That one lost me at not long after hello. Be that as it may, though, I still watch. What am I going to do on a Sunday, go to church? C’mon … I handle that stuff on my own time.

So if you’re going to watch something that entails competition, whether you believe it or not, you always pick a rooting interest, right? Look at professional wrestling.

So, I’m a Ravens fan, because I am all Baltimore all of the time. If Baltimore still had a roller derby team (and it used to have one), I’d be a Baltimore roller derby fan.

So, the Ravens had pretty high hopes and aspirations for the season that began Thursday night in Tampa. They were ranked in every preseason top 10 power rating out there (whatever that means) and were being counted on to be one of the top three teams in the brutal AFC North with the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cool. Right?

All was in place. All was well. And then, since, Aug. 21 …

— Reserve/core linebacker L.J. Fort tears an ACL (knee to the layman) in a preseason game at Carolina to end his season.

… Starting running back J.K. Dobbins tears an ACL in the Aug. 28 preseason game against Washington in the lone series he was scheduled to play. Season over.

Fans and media were in an uproar, calling for head coach John Harbaugh’s head for playing Dobbins and putting him at risk in any preseason game, much less the final one of the year.

What? It would have been okay if Dobbins had had a season-ending injury during the first series of the first regular-season game?

Again … C’mon.

But it gets better. But, really, not really …

… On Sept. 2, No. 3 running back Justice Hill tears his Achilles in practice. Out of the season …

… Just this past Thursday, new No. 1 running back Gus Edwards and starting cornerback Marcus Peters tear ACLs during practice. Both, out for the season.

So much for playing in meaningless preseason games, eh?

Certainly, the loss of its top three running backs, particularly for one of the last NFL teams that builds its offense around the running game, is brutal for the Ravens. But Baltimore still has its top rusher in quarterback Lamar Jackson, and his ability to run and cause havoc for defenses opens up everything else about the Ravens offense, including the passing game.

Okay, that’s the way the optimist is supposed to look at things. But …

Yes, the Ravens, who are a stacked team and as well and most-effectively run as any franchise in professional sports, should, and will, be a competitive team. I just can’t see any team not missing a beat when it loses its top three running backs (when it is predominantly a running team) and best cornerback.

On one hand, the injury to Peters would appear to be the most difficult one to overcome because he is one of the best corners in the NFL. However, the Ravens are very deep in the secondary. Of course, they were very deep in the running back room as well. Now, all that’s left in there are are Ty’Son Williams and newcomers Le’Veon Bell and Devonta Freeman, both of whom were brought in this week as free agents and have a combined practice total with the team of one.

Though their names do look pretty on the roster.

Neither one was expected to be on the roster this Monday as of yesterday. It’s a safe bet both players will play in the opener at Las Vegas.

From the time Ozzie Newsome became general manager in 1996, the Ravens’ organizational mantra has been, and proven to be, “Next Man Up.”

Since Eric DeCosta took over as GM in 2019, the Ravens are and remain one of the best and best-run organizations in all of professional sports. They are first-rate and have depth in every conceivable area. And no matter how much he can often drive Ravens fans crazy with his bullheadedness and blind machoism, Harbaugh is one of the very best coaches in the league.

The Ravens upgraded their team in every category this past offseason, beginning with the receivers, the defensive pressure and … the running backs.

Perhaps they will no longer be a Super Bowl contender now that the running backs room has been wiped out. But don’t sell them short. The Ravens are too smart, too resourceful and too good not to be a major pain in the arse for most, if not all, of the teams they play this season.

But, as my sainted mother used to say, “We shall see.” Not only that, hey, the Jets did win Super Bowl III, you know?

Either way, it’s a kick in the pants, that’s for sure; but don’t expect, “Dead Man Walking.” The hunch and the strong feeling here is Ravens fans will continue to see “Next Man Up.”

What other acceptable choice is there?

Mike Burke writes about sports and a lot of other stuff for Allegany Radio and Pikewood Digital. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at mike.burke@wvradio.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT