Injury List So Long, It Can Occasionally Disrupt Planning
NOTEBOOK: BIG PLAY FOR "BA"; PRACTICE AT NAVY ON SUNDAY
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- After Saturday afternoon's practice, head coach John Harbaugh headed up the hill toward the media podium on a dead run.
Even after a strenuous practice coaxing, cajoling and prodding his team to perform as well it could, Harbaugh looked as though he could tackle any physical challenge thrown his way ... and, at one time in his life, he almost got that opportunity.
"[The Naval Academy] recruited me," Harbaugh said, noting Sunday's practice in Annapolis. "I didn't go there, but I probably should have. ... No offense to Miami (Ohio, his alma mater)."
The mental and physical challenges a military regimen would have provided Harbaugh back then are similar to what he's facing now with his banged-up Ravens.
A total of 21 players had some degree of injury concern following Thursday night's substitute-driven 31-17 preseason-opening win against the Atlanta Falcons.
That lengthy list of players was shortened when six players returned from either practice injuries or ailments suffered during the preseason game.
Coming back to the field were cornerback Jimmy Smith (back), quarterback Tyrod Taylor (hamstring), running back Bernard Pierce (hamstring), linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring), center Matt Birk (back), linebacker Courtney Upshaw (shoulder) and defensive lineman Arthur Jones (hip).
That being said, Birk, Smith and Upshaw did not take part in team drills, and Pierce, Taylor and Jones saw only limited action.
Among those missing practice were four of the team's 12 wide receivers -- Torrey Smith (ankle), Logan Payne (hip), Tandon Doss (hamstring) and Patrick Williams (leg); defensive tackle Ryan McBean (broken ankle); and the Ravens' top two tight ends, Dennis Pitta (hand) and Ed Dickson (shoulder), who are expected to miss the rest of the preseason.
Upshaw's shoulder had a wrap on it underneath his jersey, and Smith had no brace on his ankle, meaning that both probably will participate on at least a limited basis in Annapolis.
But planning for a practice that falls outside the normal logistical routine is a multi-faceted task.
On one hand, Harbaugh and his staff could take a practical approach, nursing players back into action as gradually as possible. On the other, the limited opportunities fans now have to see the team in person could possibly call for certain big-name players to be in action to appease them.
Those and other factors can disrupt even the most thought-out planning when it comes to the individual periods that make up practices, usually a dozen of them.
"We've got to have them out there practicing," the coach said. "We've got 90 guys to go through. It's about [distributing] the number of reps for the number of players.
"[As a coach], it's an instinct thing, it's a feel thing, and it'll always been an issue. But we're in pretty good shape overall."
Training-camp mode lasts only a few more days -- the final such practice is set for Wednesday -- but that doesn't mean such demanding, physical workouts will stop.
"It's a tough, long camp," said Harbaugh, who seems to prefer it that way. "It's about how many reps we do. We'll find out who the best 53 players are."
If Harbaugh had gotten his chance at Annapolis those many years ago, he could have been one of them.
PRACTICE REPORT: Sunny, warm and humid conditions greeted the Ravens in their first post-Atlanta practice at the Under Armour Performance Center fields.
Here are a few highlights from the Ravens' Saturday afternoon fully-padded session:
- Inside linebacker Nigel Carr nearly decapitated running back Damien Berry after the latter caught a pass during 7-on-7 drills.
- Quarterback Curtis Painter, author of three touchdown passes Thursday night, was thrown into an early team period against a defense made up mostly of first-string players. His supporting cast did a good job blocking them, what with Billy Bajema seal-blocking Chavis Williams and Vonta Leach getting to the second level and blocking Jameel McClain.
- During 7-on-7, Painter threw a deadly accurate out route to Tommy Streeter near the end-zone pylong, barely evading the closing defender.
- Quarterback Joe Flacco ran a beautiful fake to the right and waggled to the left, finding Vonta Leach wide open just in front of the fans. Linebacker Paul Kruger was so visibly upset about missing the play, he yelled an audible obscenity.
- Wideout LaQuan Williams dropped a few passes Saturday, but did make a juggling catch by the sideline while falling out of bounds.
- Even though the Ravens committed just four accepted penalties in Atlanta, there were a few delay-of-game flags in practice and an offensive pass interference call when Deonte Thompson shoved Jordan Mabin down while going for a pass. Several defensive backs crowded Thompson later in the session and mowed him down, drawing another flag.
- Before practice, McClain -- perhaps inspired by Brendon Ayanbadejo's interception (see "Brendon's Big Play," below) was seen catching footballs from a JUGS gun, much as wide receivers often do. Also, defensive lineman Ishmaa'ily Kitchen was getting some extra technique tutoring at one point during practice from position coach Clarence Brooks.
- Kicker Justin Tucker got the lion's share of the kicking duties on this particular day, going 6-for-6 from distances ranging from less than 30 yards to about 55 yards.
- The newest addition to the music playlist was "Running Down A Dream" from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
BRENDON'S BIG PLAY: It seems hard to believe that Ayanbadejo is entering his fifth year with the Ravens after previous stops with Miami and Chicago.
But it's not hard to fathom that "BA" was the first unrestricted free agent the team signed during the John Harbaugh era, Harbaugh having been a special-teams coach in Philadelphia for nine seasons.
Ayanbadejo -- at 35, one of only 11 Ravens aged 30 or over -- has more than burnished his reputation on "teams," having registered 49 tackles on various kick coverage units during his time in Baltimore. But with veteran Ray Lewis sitting out the Atlanta preseason opener, Ayanbadejo got a chance to shine.
Ironically, it was just after the Ravens' punt-coverage unit had allowed a 45-yard return to the Falcons' Dominique Franks that set up Matt Ryan and the hosts' well-executing offense at the Ravens' 15-yard line.
On the next play, Ayanbadejo stepped in front of a slant pass that was intended for Roddy White, picked it off and ran it back 40 yards. It was a rarity for Ayanbadejo, who hasn't had a regular-season pickoff since 2009 during a 34-3 home win against Cleveland.
It was also one of the few times neither White nor Julio Jones could make a play against some rather passive Ravens coverages.
"I got a pick in front of him off of [Matt Ryan] when he threw it behind the safety," Ayanbadejo said. "But Jones is an explosive athlete. With the tandem they have with him and Roddy White and Tony Gonzalez, well that's an amazing receiving corps. So they are really explosive at their skill positions."
The Falcons used their explosive scheme and no-huddle offense to outgain the Ravens during the first quarter by a staggering 191-9 margin. But the fact that the team was playing a real game at all was solace enough for Ayanbadejo.
"It was good to play against someone else," he said. "We anticipated them playing a little no-huddle. Our first team came out and anticipated it. Obviously we need to start a little faster. But it was good to hit someone else other than a teammate. In the second half, our back-ups played amazing."
NAVY PRACTICE: There's still a little time to purchase parking passes at navysports.com for Sunday's Ravens practice at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. The cost is $10 for cars and $25 for buses.
Parking lots open at noon (cold tailgating only) for the second of the team's three stadium-style practices, with the stadium gates opening at 3:30 p.m.. Practice begins at 5 p.m.
The Baltimore Marching Ravens band, cheerleaders and mascot Poe will be there, as well as live mascots Rise and Conquer.
The Annapolis practice is the brainchild of Anne Arundel County native and Ravens majority owner Steve Bisciotti.
In the past, Bisciotti has expressed how torn he was about having to move the team's training camp from Westminster back to its Under Armour Performance Center headquarters.
In fact, there is a photograph in the team's media guide of a young Bisciotti at the Colts' training camp at the former Western Maryland College, standing next to quarterbacking legend John Unitas.
Now, Bisciotti is seizing upon an opportunity to bring his own team back to his hometown.
"I'm excited to see how many fans show up," he said. "We've got a nice contingent down in Anne Arundel County, and I think they'll take the opportunity to come down. We know what Annapolis is like in the summer, so I'm looking forward to it. It'll be a nice environment, and it's nice for our fans down there."
QUOTE OF THE DAY I: The sideline music system that blares loudly to simulate gameday conditions often emits songs that are unfamiliar to the players, most of whom weren't quite born when the songs were released.
When Blue Oyster Cult's classic hit, "Don't Fear The Reaper" was playing, safety Bernard Pollard asked loudly, "Who did this song, the Beatles?"
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: Ray Lewis' arduous offseason workouts are legendary, but what many probably don't know is how he actually prepares to fail, as he told the team's Web site.
"I start to break apart, and there is something inside saying: 'I'm getting to the part when I can't do another,'" Lewis said. "It challenges your mind and your body. There are wow moments. You say, 'I can't go any farther.'
"That's the point I always want to reach. Some people don't want to go there. I want to go there every time. With that failure to do one more comes the progress I want."
Posted Aug. 11, 2012