First Day Of School, Young Ravens Check In
ROOKIES NERVOUS, BUT EAGER; SKULL FRACTURE FOR KINDLE
By Joe Platania
WESTMINSTER -- Little by little, they trickled through the door of the team hotel, through the black, purple and gold-colored balloon arch that greets their arrival each and every year, through the threshold between bowl games and signing bonuses.
Once through the door, the latest crop of Baltimore Ravens rookies steeled themselves for the hardest four weeks of their lives ... and the most rewarding.
That's why fifth-round draft pick Arthur Jones drove five hours without stopping to get to camp. He drove so fast, he ended up being the first player to report Monday morning.
"In Syracuse, New York, there's not much to do there," Jones said. "I was just ready to get after it. ... I think I got up around six in the morning and drove straight, no stops."
In the movie "A League Of Their Own," Tom Hanks uttered, "If it were easy, everyone would do it. It's the hard that makes it great." He was talking about baseball, but the principle applies to football as well. The Ravens are expected to be serious Super Bowl contenders this year, but they are not expecting the ride to be easy.
Head coach John Harbaugh doesn't care, since he's expected his team to win the Super Bowl every year since he took the job in 2008. For now, he's focusing "on tomorrow's practice."
"We've got a lot of work to do between now and (the Super Bowl)," the coach said. "I want to get in guy's faces, I want to hug 'em and slap 'em on the back and start running around."
Despite the collegiate attitude surrounding a Harbaugh camp, running back Matt Lawrence knows how tough it can be as well. One of 14 players who ended up on injured reserve last year with a November knee injury, Lawrence feels he's at 100 percent. But he understands professional football is a mental challenge as well as a physical one.
"It's mostly mental," Lawrence said. "You all see us out here in the sun in pads. ... Everybody can run three miles and be in shape. But it's when you got to remember what's going on (that makes it tough)."
That's when good teammates -- and good friends -- come in handy. It's what makes the relationship between draft picks Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson unique. Many publications (including PressBox) have already detailed how the two tight ends are out to replenish the depth chart and back up all-time franchise leading receiver Todd Heap. But the pair rooming together in this camp understand their learning curve is steep, no matter how smart the mentor or how good the team.
"We have a pretty good understanding that you're going to make mistakes in football," Pitta said. "That's just the nature of the game and there's going to be highs, there's going to be lows. You just have to manage that, and keep persevering and keep working and it'll all work out."
Dickson agreed, conveying that nervous feeling, despite a full spring of organized team activity practices, still hits any rookie the minute he shows up at camp.
"When I walked through the door, I just said, 'I'm ready to get it started,'" Dickson said. "You're in the hotel and it seems like you're back in the dorms. So, it does feel like the first day of school."
That's why rookies are often treated like high school freshmen, the low men on the totem pole. That's why they carry the veterans' pads, buy their breakfasts and sing their college fight song in front of everyone. Collegiate-level success just doesn't matter anymore.
"We've never been through this before," Pitta said. "Got a little taste of it through OTAs, but it's our first training camp and it is like going to a new school. We kind of have to feel our way through it and have fun doing it."
The way the Ravens operate, fun leads to even harder work, which leads to the kind of success they anticipate and others are expecting.
"We're ready to go," Lawrence said. "We have high expectations of ourselves to come in right and come in direct. That's the way we do things around here."
And it all starts when they walk through the balloon arch ... little by little, step by step.
Posted July 26, 2010