The Ravens’ first padded practice of training camp on Monday had a familiar feeling.
The players were laughing and joking before practice, their first padded practice of the year. There were hard hits and loud pops of pads to go along with an extremely pleasant summer morning in Owings Mills. Besides the masks worn by the coaches, it looked like a normal training camp practice in a normal year.
But one thing that will be different about this training camp is that the Ravens will carry the weight of expectation all season long.
Baltimore finished 14-2 last season, the league’s best regular season team. It had a league MVP quarterback at the controls of the league’s best offense, which ran for more yards than any team in NFL history. All that came during a year where no one expected such an outburst from the team.
And now, the Ravens aren’t a surprise anymore.
“I really want to be a champion,” Matthew Judon said. “I want to bring another championship to this organization, that’s the biggest goal and I think that’s the goal for everybody. Right now, that’s what I’m striving for. Just continue to lead on defense and in my position make an impact on the field.”
The Ravens’ first padded practice of the year was what the team hopes is the first step toward a long run toward the Super Bowl.
It was also the first time they wore the pads together as a team since the team’s 28-12 playoff loss to the Titans in the AFC Divisional Round in January. By then, the Ravens were expected to make the Super Bowl, or at least the conference title game, but they were still a young team where many key contributors hadn’t ever made it that far in the NFL Playoffs.
Now, a Ravens run to the Super Bowl won’t come as a surprise to anyone. Instead, it’s the expectation.
“I was on the field during the Super Bowl and just walking around, watching the other teams warm up,” cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “The energy I felt down there in Miami, it really just triggered my whole offseason into just thinking, ‘Man, the only thing I really want is a Super Bowl.’ I know Lamar (Jackson) has spoken about that a lot. He’s the leader of this group, and we’re all trying to get the same thing.”
There won’t be any preseason games this year, meaning the first time the Ravens play in a game, it will count. From the team’s first padded practice of camp, they were less than four weeks away from the first regular season game against the Browns on Sept. 13.
“At the end of the day, as a team, it starts by winning our division in the AFC North, winning our conference and doing what we have to do to get to the Super Bowl and winning that,” Orlando Brown Jr. said. “But it starts with the small goals. That’s one week at a time. Right now, the focus is on Cleveland.”
On paper, it’ll be difficult for the Ravens to be much better in the regular season. They won the AFC North last year, earned the conference’s top seed in the playoffs and scored a league-best 33.2 points per game. The defense was nearly as good, allowing just 17.6 points per game.
For now, that all comes later. Instead, the focus is on what’s in the near future.
“Long-term, we all want to have the opportunity to play in a Super Bowl,” Brown said. “But we understand that it’s the small goals that come first, it’s week-to-week, that’s what the NFL is.”
Some of those goals can be fun, too.
Judon made note that he’s emphasizing going after the football this season in not only sacks, but interceptions too.
Talk about the Super Bowl will come later, as the weeks and months of the season fade into the history books. And what could help the Ravens get there is an interception from Judon.
In his four-year NFL career, Judon has never tallied an interception or scored a touchdown. He’s also never been to a Super Bowl in his career. He’s working on making both of those become firsts in 2020.
“The goal, one of my distant goals, and I wish it happens this year, is I want to get a pick,” Judon said. “So we’re going to work on that. I got the best hands on the team, I just ain’t have the opportunities. Sometimes on passes to the flats, I’m worried about just batting those down. I’m going to try to turn those into turnovers and go ahead and pick it off. If I get a pick this year, it’s going for six.”