This happens every year.
As July comes to a close, a group of analysts and fans get their first look at that year's Baltimore Ravens. Training camp opens, as many fans as possible get in to watch and many more reporters begin delivering information to meet the insatiable requests of their editors.
Perhaps it's just our thirst. We are thirsty for the NFL, and until regular-season games begin, we're desperate for something to quench us. We're incapable of keeping perspective, because we've spent the last five months wandering the football Sahara. There are occasional mirages -- the start of free agency and the NFL Draft -- that leave us hoping our rescue is near.
In August, we're handed a canteen by way of training camp and the preseason. It isn't our oasis -- that is still a month away when the regular season begins. But it's just enough that, when rationed appropriately, we can tide ourselves over until we can finally suppress football longing.
But alas, when you're as desperate as we are in the buildup to football season, there is absolutely no chance we're going to be rationing.
This is all a lengthy way to say: Stop freaking out about how players perform during the preseason.
OK, I'll make it lengthier.
Not even a week into the preseason, Twitter has already told me Ravens receiver Darren Waller has looked incredible, fellow wideout Jeremy Butler is going to be a player and receiver Kamar Aiken is going to be a star.
This isn't to say none of that could possibly be true. It's not impossible for Waller or Butler to make the team (although I believe we'd all be surprised if they both did), and Aiken could conceivably become a standout performer if he were to get that type of opportunity.
It's just that nothing you've seen so far is proof of any of those possibilities. Because what you're watching is practice, not even the type of practice that helps prepare a team to play a football game against an opponent.
If you need to know how truly unimportant these practices are, consider this: Ravens head coach John Harbaugh allows the media (and fans) to watch them.
So considering we have such an amazing desire for football information, and yet we need to know better than to overreact to anything we see, what are some rules we should follow during the preseason?
I'm so glad you asked.
Rule No. 1: If you're easily excitable, maybe you should wait until September to join us.
There's just no way around this. If you're incapable of perspective, this is probably the worst time for you to be a football fan.
At least exhibition baseball has the absurdity of pitchers running around in the outfield and players wearing numbers in the 70s to remind us that none of it really matters. Football spends its preseason trying to convince you that the product it's giving you is worth the money you had no choice but to pay for it. I can empathize with those who are duped into believing any of what they see.
Rule No. 2: #NeverForget
This is particularly for those of you who have spent time discussing the Ravens' receivers this preseason. Did any of you say anything along the lines of "I really think Matt Furstenburg could be something special," or "Mark my words -- Aaron Mellette will solve this offense's problems," or "They're going to have to find a roster spot for Tommy Streeter?"
Or if you want to go back a few years, you can replace any of the above names with a name like Ron Johnson or Marc Lester or Demetrius Williams or LaQuan Williams or Randy Hymes, or I think you get the picture.
It's not that there's no chance the guys who impress you in camp will go on to impress you in the real games. It's just that you shouldn't forget those who fooled you in the process.
Rule No. 3: There actually are some things worth watching for during the preseason. I swear.
At just about every location you've found me on the radio or Internet throughout the years, I've maintained one common thought regarding the NFL preseason. From a viewer's perspective, it's far more important to know when and where a player did something than it is to observe what they did.
If a late-round pick fighting for a roster spot makes 10 catches from a third string quarterback against a defense made up of mostly special teamers, it doesn't mean nearly as much tangibly as it would if that player made one catch from Joe Flacco against the top secondary.
You really can learn something from where a player lines up. That's the best possible way to get a sense for how the coaches feel about the entire package the player presents -- knowledge of the playbook, participation in the position rooms, effort on the practice field and football ability. The better the combination, the more likely the player is to see more time on the field. It seems pretty simple.
But oh yeah …
Rule No. 4: Even then ...
Don't forget that sometimes a player is getting an opportunity to work further up the depth chart because someone else is hurt or otherwise unavailable that day. Or it's simply because a coach just wants to see how a particular player works playing alongside another particular player or in another circumstance.
So even when you think you've learned something ... there's no guarantee you're right.
Rule No. 5: It's not a cliché. Health is all that matters.
Ultimately, whether it is a practice or a preseason game, the only definitive learning you can do will be regarding injuries. If a player tears his ACL, you've learned something.
Of course, even with injuries, we sometimes think a story has been told, but there are still more chapters. Just don't forget that once a player starts practicing, he can't go on the Physically Unable to Perform list. We've been through this too many times for you to still be confused about that.
I think that's pretty much it. Take this with you. Go put your purple on and enjoy your chance to get to Owings Mills, Md., for a practice or the preseason games.
Just keep it all in perspective.