Ravens are sell­ing a new era

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - SPORTS -

But Thomas, 30, missed 12 games last season with a bro­ken leg. He might return to the form that made him one of the most feared com­peti­tors in the game, or he might just be­come an­other safety on the down­side of his ca­reer.

Every­thing is a tough sell for the Ravens, who haven’t been this de­void of mar­quee names since the great al­pha-male purge af­ter their cham­pi­onship season in 2012.

Be­sides Thomas, the next big­gest name is sec­ond-year quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son. He brought ex­cite­ment to this town last season when he rushed for 695 yards and five touch­downs as the Ravens won six of their fi­nal seven reg­u­lar-season games be­fore los­ing to the Los An­ge­les Charg­ers in the wild-card round of the play­offs.

Fans started buzzing and wear­ing pur­ple on Fri­days again. They stopped giv­ing away tick­ets as quickly as some peo­ple eat Skit­tles. By the time the Ravens played the Browns in the reg­u­lar-season fi­nale last year, M&T Bank Sta­dium was the place to be again Sun­day af­ter­noons.

But now, the Ravens have to prove last year wasn’t a fluke and they are close to be­com­ing se­ri­ous con­tenders. As much as some peo­ple loved Jack­son, there are just as many doubters be­cause of his in­ac­cu­rate arm and in­con­sis­tent play.

The ul­ti­mate barom­e­ter for the team will be its abil­ity to win, but the mar­ket­ing depart­ment has to put fans in the stands. Un­til the winning starts, what else do they have to sell?

The team’s best player is right guard Mar­shal Yanda, who is nowhere near as en­gag­ing as Hall of Fame left tackle Jonathan Og­den. They have two talented tight ends in Mark An­drews and Hay­den Hurst, but both are in their sec­ond sea­sons and still un­proven.

Run­ning back Mark In­gram is solid, but doesn’t have the name recog­ni­tion of Le’Veon Bell or Ezekiel El­liott. Rookie re­ceiver Mar­quise Brown, nick­named “Hol­ly­wood,” was drafted in the first round, but he hasn’t fully re­cov­ered from a Lis­franc (foot) injury.

If both he and Jack­son don’t live up to expectatio­ns, imag­ine the em­bar­rass­ment that will be felt by the Ravens front of­fice. They will have drafted a re­ceiver in Bre­shad Per­ri­man who can’t catch, a quar­ter­back who can’t throw and a fast re­ceiver who can’t run.

It would be an amaz­ing tri­fecta. On de­fense, the sit­u­a­tion is sim­i­lar. The Ravens fin­ished the season ranked No. 1, but there aren’t any household names ex­cept for Thomas. There is no one to fear or to have to game plan for ex­cept nose tackle Bran­don Williams in the run­ning game.

Gone, and right­fully so, are veter­ans such as out­side line­backer Ter­rell Suggs and safety Eric Wed­dle, who both lost a step, and lineback­ers C.J. Mosley and Za’Dar­ius Smith, who were sig­nif­i­cantly over­paid dur­ing the off­sea­son.

There was a sim­i­lar sce­nario about seven years ago, when the Ravens parted ways with vet­eran in­side line­backer Ray Lewis, safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pol­lard and re­ceiver An­quan Boldin.

But they still had some top play­ers com­ing back, such as run­ning back Ray Rice, de­fen­sive tackle Haloti Ngata, Suggs and quar­ter­back Joe Flacco.

These Ravens have a nu­cleus of play­ers to build on. They have a lot of of­fen­sive play­ers with po­ten­tial in Jack­son, Hurst, An­drews, Brown and re­ceiver Miles Boykin. On de­fense, they have corner­backs Mar­lon Humphrey and Tavon Young, and lineback­ers Kenny Young, Matthew Judon and Patrick On­wua­sor. They have the game’s top kicker in Justin Tucker, even though it’s scary when a kicker is your most rec­og­niz­able player.

The ad­ver­tise­ments put out by the team so far are per­fect. The Ravens cel­e­brate their past and pay trib­ute to for­mer stars such as Lewis, Reed and Ja­mal Lewis, but they don’t dwell on it.

They move to the present with a lot of footage of Jack­son and em­pha­size the proud tra­di­tion of play­ing great de­fense in Bal­ti­more. The Ravens get it. They are sell­ing a new era in Bal­ti­more.

But it would be a lot eas­ier if they had some star play­ers.

KARL MERTON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

The Ravens are hop­ing quar­ter­back La­mar Jack­son can be­come the face of the fran­chise, but that’s no guar­an­tee.

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