Boldin-Flacco Rapport Vital After TE Pitta Breaks Hand
NOTEBOOK: MCKINNIE DOESN'T PRACTICE; BOLLER RETIRES
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- There are 11 players on the Ravens' roster aged 30 and older. Although there are certain days when they don't have to put on the pads -- as the rest of the team did during Monday afternoon's practice at the Under Armour Performance Center -- they can practice at their own discretion.
Tenth-year NFL wideout Anquan Boldin, entering his third season as a Raven since Arizona Cardinals traded him, usually exercises that discretion.
The ultra-prepared Boldin is easy to spot during the pre-practice period, as he usually puts himself through a series of choppy, quick leg-oriented exercises between the two main practice fields.
"It's a little different at receiver," Boldin said. "You see guys take days off (at other positions), but if I sit out and a receiver goes down, well, I don't want to put my guys in a tough spot."
Even though Dennis Pitta is a tight end and not a receiver, the broken hand that caused him to leave the field early is exactly the kind of occurrence addressed by Boldin, who was not aware of it when it happened.
(Head coach John Harbaugh said Pitta could be back for the regular-season opener Sept. 10, before backtracking, conceding that he wouldn't really know a timetable until the tight end took a magnetic-resonance imaging test.)
Most observers think it is Pitta with whom Flacco has established his best on-field rapport, but Boldin said he has been more than eager to get his own connection going with the young signal-caller, as well as with the team's other receivers.
"I'm on the same page with Joe," Boldin said. "[In training camp], we talk out there after every play. ... We've got guys like Torrey Smith and Jacoby Jones that can stretch the field and [undrafted rookie] Deonte [Thompson can work inside as well as outside.
"Mix in the running backs and the tight ends, and we're a hard group to stop."
During Monday's practice, Boldin showed the focus necessary to catch passes in traffic. He caught a short Flacco toss over the middle, just as linebacker Jameel McClain was running hard into the area. If the play had been live, a jarring collision would have surely resulted.
But that's a moot point; for Boldin's part, he still comes to camp ready to work as hard as possible. It's especially important for him this year, coming off a season during which he caught only 57 passes, the second-lowest total of his career, and scored three touchdowns, also second lowest.
Boldin posted such numbers partially because he was fighting through a partial knee meniscus tear. Because of the NFL lockout, he could not rehabilitate it at team facilities through most of the offseason.
The former Florida State star missed the last two regular-season games before returning to the field and hauling in 10 catches for 174 yards during the Ravens' two postseason contests.
"You have to have veteran guys," Harbaugh said of Boldin. "You can't just run a bunch of kids out there. Football is a hard, tough sport, and you have to have guys who know how to handle it."
Wide receivers coach Jim Hostler agreed.
"It's outstanding, awesome to have a guy like [Boldin]," he said. "To give a guy direction, to show him how it's done, not just physically, but mentally.
"On and off the field, there's no better example."
That's probably because Boldin, for all his accomplishments -- 707 career catches (sixth among active players), three Pro Bowls, becoming the fastest in NFL history to record 500 catches (80 games) and 600 as well (98) -- turns the clock back to zero at the start of each season.
Boldin said as much in a tweet on the Ravens' official social media page, which said he was ready to have his best year.
"He starts all over every year," Hostler said. "He might be ahead of the younger guys, but he comes in and works every day. He can make this his best year."
For all teams on the Ravens' schedule, opponents' discretion is advised.
MCKINNIE SITS OUT: Besides Pitta's injury, the most noteworthy member of the Ravens' sick bay is left tackle Bryant McKinnie, who reported to the UAPC with a strained muscle in his back.
"He came in [Sunday]," Harbaugh said. "We had a long, very good conversation. ... He's not ready to practice yet."
It is not certain whether McKinnie, who will be fined at least $120,000 for missing the first few days of camp, will be placed on the Non-Football Injury list or the Physically Unable To Perform sheet.
Wideout Tandon Doss sat out the Monday session with a hamstring ailment and top draft pick Courtney Upshaw (bruised shoulder) and tackle Ramon Harewood (ankle) were also among the missing.
Some of the older-than-30 players did take the field -- kicker Billy Cundiff, fullback Vonta Leach, safety Ed Reed, guards Tony Wragge and Bobbie Williams -- even though they didn't have on full pads.
As for the PUP list, defensive end Pernell McPhee (knee) is getting closer to a return, but defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (hamstring) has yet to pass the conditioning test. Wideout David Reed (knee) and guard/tackle Jah Reid (calf) are also on PUP.
PRACTICE REPORT: Monday afternoon's fully padded practice was held in cloudy, cooler conditions and placed a heavy, physical emphasis on short-yardage and goal-line situations.
- Guard/center Gino Gradkowski did a fine job standing up and holding a couple of blocks against veteran nose tackle Terrence Cody.
- Backup quarterback Curtis Painter continued to struggle, audibling to a play that resulted in a fumble. Backed up against his own goal line, Tyrod Taylor executed a nice play-action fake and waggle, but the subsequent deep pass was intercepted.
- During seven-on-seven, running back Bobby Rainey beat linebacker Albert McClellan on a slant, but ended up dropping the pass.
- Surprisingly, guard Marshal Yanda found himself on the bottom of the pile when he didn't pull fast enough to the left on a running play.
- Backup guard/center Justin Boren pulled to the left and blocked two defenders on a single play, but got no support from the left side of the line as the run went nowhere.
- Running back Bernard Pierce nearly got free on a run to the sideline, but safety Sean Considine pulled him down from behind.
- Defensive end Arthur Jones ran a sharp inside stunt and looked to have a clean shot at Flacco, but was picked up at the last second by fullback Vonta Leach.
- Flacco continues to look sharp, throwing into tight windows with increasing frequency. On the goal line, he zipped a pass into tight end Ed Dickson's hands, barely eluding safety Emanuel Cook.
- The receivers had another fine day holding on to passes. LaQuan Williams kept his concentration on a juggling catch that he eventually made out of bounds, but with Corey Graham draped all over him. Also, backup tight end Davon Drew made a fine reception in the back of the end zone.
- The kicking battle remained tight, as both Billy Cundiff and Justin Tucker converted from 20, 36 and 52 yards during the first kicking period. They both missed from 52, with Cundiff going wide left and Tucker missing wide right. During the special-teams period, Tucker appeared to get good kickoff distance.
- Once again, Harbaugh had loud rock music piped in to simulate the raucous home-field conditions. The Monday playlist was heavy on AC/DC, but it also included Led Zeppelin, The Who, Rush and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
- Among those in attendance were Loyola University men's basketball coach and former University of Maryland assistant Jimmy Patsos, who last winter took the Greyhounds to their first NCAA tournament since 1994.
JUST HANG ON: During the first few days of training camp, one big highlight has been how well the Ravens are hanging on to the ball, both via pass receptions and defensive pickoffs.
Even players with drop-filled reputations, such as Jacoby Jones, are getting their mitts on the ball more often than not. Additionally, defenders such as Corey Graham are holding on to interceptions and making valuable yardage with the returns.
The team's newly glue-fingered tendencies have been contagious, from second-year deep man Torrey Smith to recent journeyman signee Logan Payne.
A big key is being in the right place at the right time. But perhaps more importantly, the Ravens are getting fundamentally better and catching with their hands instead of letting the ball thump against their bodies, where a momentary lapse of concentration could result in a drop.
Last year, the Ravens had the seventh-most drops in the league with a staggering 31. They had fewer than 10 during each of the previous two seasons.
"We were not as good of a catching team last year as we need to be," Harbaugh told the team's Web site. "It's definitely an emphasis.
"You know, that's the No. 1 job for a receiver -- to catch the ball. You can talk about speed, size and separation all you want. But, the bottom line is, can you catch? If you can't catch, in my mind, you can't play receiver."
Tight end Ed Dickson, who let several slip through his fingers last year, agreed.
"[Harbaugh] is 100 percent right," Dickson said. "Balls shouldn't be on the ground. When you're playing at an elite level, balls aren't on the ground. We'’re world-class athletes. We need to work on our craft."
"LIGHTNING ROD" RETIRES: During a training-camp practice in Westminster several years ago, just as much-scrutinized and -discussed Kyle Boller was getting under center to lead a team drill, the skies opened and a tremendous lightning and thunderstorm pelted the field.
That seemed appropriate, for Boller had recently been the subject of a PressBox cover story titled "Lightning Rod."
The 31-year-old Boller, who retired from football during the weekend after signing with the San Diego Chargers, was one of the most opinion-provoking athletes in Baltimore sports history. Most fans either really liked him, or completely despised him.
Along with Terrell Suggs, Boller was one of two first-round picks the Ravens selected in 2003. There was talk that the team actually preferred Byron Leftwich, whom the Jacksonville Jaguars snagged after a draft-day snafu.
Even though Boller didn't play to the level of a first-round selection, he was one of the most conscientious, hard-working players to ever put on a Ravens uniform. But Boller's outward intensity showed that he was perhaps too willing to make a quick first impression, what with his nervous feet and jittery pocket presence.
If anything, Boller -- whose career spanned eight years in Baltimore, St. Louis and Oakland -- was inconsistent rather than inept, and there's a difference. Inept quarterbacks are the ones usually known as busts, who don't last long in the league and who post abysmal stats while they do play.
Boller lasted longer than the likes of Akili Smith, Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell. Although his career passer rating of almost 70 (56.7 percent completions, 48 touchdowns, 54 interceptions) isn't great, he had a dedication and passion for the game that were more evident than that showed by some of the aforementioned quarterbacks, and plenty more that didn't pan out.
Just keep in mind that Boller -- married to former beauty-pageant queen Carrie Prejean, with whom he has a daughter -- holds the Ravens' single-game passer rating record (136.8), set on a night when he outdueled the great Brett Favre.
Not only that, Boller had three career three-touchdown games, the same number as Joe Flacco, and his 44 interceptions during five seasons here are two fewer than Flacco's total during four years. Boller was also sacked 37 fewer times than Flacco, even thought he played one more season.
Boller may not have brought down the thunder as a first-round pick should, but he provided many lightning-bright moments.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Legendary Colts and Orioles broadcaster Chuck Thompson always used to say, "You're never as good as you look when you're winning and you're never as bad as you look when you're losing."
Ravens' first-year defensive coordinator Dean Pees feels the same way.
"I have to watch the film," Pees said after a recent practice. "I hate to always mention that, because film is never as good as you think you are, and you're never as bad as you think you are.
"You think you had a terrible day, and you watch the film and you weren't as [bad as] you thought. Some days, you think you're really good and you see a ton of mistakes."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our last entry:
In 2001, the top two vote-getters in the Heisman Trophy award ballotting were, predictably, a pair of quarterbacks, Nebraska's Eric Crouch and Florida's Rex Grossman.
But a present-day Raven, who does not play one of the so-called offensive "skill positions," got 26 first-place votes and was eighth in the ballotting that year. Who is he?
It may be hard for some to believe it now, but those gaudy Heisman vote totals belong to none other than the Ravens' itinerant left tackle, Bryant McKinnie.
While playing at the University of Miami, McKinnie got to block for a potent running attack. Not only that, one of his defensive teammates was present-day Ravens free safety Ed Reed, who was among those that recommended the Ravens sign him last year.
But despite McKinnie's current problems, he was a first-team All-America choice and the Outland Trophy winner -- given to the nation's best lineman -- for a Hurricanes team that won the 2001 Bowl Championship Series title during his senior year.
Plus, even though McKinnie did not win the Heisman Trophy, Sports Illustrated magazine named him the overall college Player of the Year.
McKinnie was one of five Hurricane players taken during the first round of the 2002 draft, which tied a 34-year-old record set by a Southern California team that included running back O.J. Simpson.
Posted July 30, 2012