One­time backup QB re­turns as bud­ding star

Op­ti­mism fills the Ravens ahead of the sea­son opener ‘It’s not about me,’ Bills’ Tay­lor says of opener

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - Peter Sch­muck By Jeff Zre­biec

The Ravens got back into the reg­u­lar-sea­son rou­tine Wed­nes­day morn­ing, and it was fairly ob­vi­ous from the up­beat com­ments of sev­eral team lead­ers after­ward that they’re pretty stoked for Sun­day’s sea­son opener against the Buf­falo Bills at M&T Bank Sta­dium. And why not? If you’re Joe Flacco and you haven’t played in a real game since Novem­ber, you’ve got to be as ex­cited as a kid at Christ­mas to get back onto the field with a full com­ple­ment of play­mak­ers, two healthy knees and a clean slate.

If you’re Steve Smith Sr., you’re es­sen­tially Sea­son opener

Ty­rod Tay­lor’s con­ver­sa­tions with his ex-team­mates have pretty much ceased this week, but both sides have four years’ worth of di­a­logue to put Sun­day’s game into proper per­spec­tive. From 2011 to 2014, Tay­lor ran the Ravens scout team. It was the backup quar­ter­back’s job dur­ing the week to get the de­fense ready for the next game.

Tay­lor played the role of Colin Kaeper­nick dur­ing the lead-in to Su­per Bowl XLVII, and mim­icked Ben Roeth­lis­berger, An­drew Luck and many other quar­ter­backs dur­ing his time in Bal­ti­more. All the while, he had plenty of con­ver­sa­tions with Ravens de­fen­sive play­ers about what it would be like if they had to pre­pare for him.

res­ur­rect­ing a ca­reer that you ex­pected to be over by now back be­fore your farewell sea­son was cut short in Novem­ber by a torn Achilles ten­don.

If you’re Ter­rell Suggs, it’s been a year since you’ve been able to be the real “T-Siz­zle” and strike ter­ror in the hearts of op­pos­ing quar­ter­backs.

If you’re safety Eric Wed­dle, you’re en­ter­ing a new phase of your ca­reer after spend­ing nine years in San Diego as one of the top safeties in the league. And the beard has grown back nicely.

“This is an amaz­ing op­por­tu­nity,” Wed­dle said. “It’s fi­nally here. Get through the train­ing camp and pre­sea­son as healthy as you can be and now it’s upon us. We’ve got an un­be­liev­able chal­lenge ahead of us in [the Bills]. Their tal­ent and tough­ness present a lot of chal­lenges and matchups for us, but we can’t be more ex­cited for the chal­lenge, ex­cited for the sea­son and ready to show over­all about what the 2016 Ravens are go­ing to be.”

There’s a lot we don’t know about this Ravens team, for some of the rea­sons listed above. There is a sense of great an­tic­i­pa­tion sur­round­ing them as they pre­pare to take on old friends Rex Ryan and Ty­rod Tay­lor in a game the odd­s­mak­ers say could go ei­ther way.

The same can prob­a­bly be said of the Ravens’ sea­son, but there are plenty of rea­sons to be­lieve they will bounce back from last year’s in­jury-marred 5-11 per­for­mance.

Last year at this time, coach John Har­baugh and his staff were pre­par­ing for a strange first half that in­cluded four road games on the other side of the coun­try. The Ravens at­tempted to ease the strain of their ridicu­lous travel sched­ule by stay­ing out west between their opener against the Den­ver Bron­cos and Week 2 game against the Oak­land Raiders. After los­ing both games, they scrapped a sim­i­lar plan for their back-to-back trips to San Fran­cisco and Ari­zona.

The good news this year is they have just one road stop out­side the Eastern time zone (Dal­las), and they get the ben­e­fit of the third-place matchups with the AFC West and South, though the Raiders are get­ting some re­spect this year and it’s never been easy for the Ravens to win in Jack­sonville.

The Ravens are com­ing off a 5-11 record, but they have never stayed down for long and it was ap­par­ent from the lead­er­ship rep­re­sented at the me­dia ses­sion Wed­nes­day at the Un­der Ar­mour Per­for­mance Cen­ter that they’ll have no short­age of lead­er­ship and pas­sion as they climb out of that hole.

Suggs ad­dressed some of the un­cer­tainty that will fol­low his team into the new sea­son.

“It’s all foot­ball when it comes down to it, and we’ve got a job to do,” Suggs said. “And

ADRIAN KRAUS/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

After four years run­ning the Ravens prac­tice squad, Ty­rod Tay­lor signed with Buf­falo last year and earned a Pro Bowl se­lec­tion.

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