Ravens Change Up Practice Pace By Moving Indoors
NOTEBOOK: JIMMY SMITH HURT; RAVENS IN '13 HALL GAME?
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- When the Ravens trained on what is now Stevenson University property, they had one option when they wanted to practice indoors.
Actually, there was no option because they simply couldn't do it.
These days, that's not the case, as the team's Under Armour Performance Center is equipped with a full-size indoor field that can be easily used if head coach John Harbaugh feels that practice work needs to be done there.
Thursday afternoon, the Ravens held their normal practice session indoors even though the sun was shining brightly outside ... too brightly, perhaps.
"Well, we don't have the sun beating down on us," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "It's good being in here. John made the right decision."
As Pees spoke those words, the rasp and hoarseness his voice possessed during his previous media session was noticeably absent; he didn't need to project as much indoors, for the building's echo helped his words get across.
Also, special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg was practically beaming after the practice, noting its fast pace and good tempo.
During last year's training camp, five of 17 practices were moved indoors, mostly because of lightning or rain. That was probably way too much for Harbaugh's tastes, for he has a rather spartan mindset, wanting his players to practice in as many different conditions as possible; he even held an entire two-hour spring practice in a downpour earlier this year.
But it must be noted that the indoor practice won't necessarily prepare the Ravens for any regular-season play. Only the Oct. 21 game at Houston is set for a stadium with at least a retractable roof, and it was closed the last time the Ravens played there, in 2010.
The Ravens do play their preseason opener at Atlanta's Georgia Dome next Thursday, and at St. Louis' Edward Jones Dome Aug. 30 to close the preseason schedule.
But it's not as if Baltimore makes a habit of practicing indoors, as the Dallas Cowboys do whenever the California portion of their camp ends and they head for the cover the San Antonio Alamodome provides.
But Harbaugh -- mindful of the league's heavy player-safety emphasis during recent years -- admitted earlier during camp that the team needed to get out of the sun once once in a while.
The weather forecast for the rest of the week calls for partly sunny, warm and humid conditions, with temperatures ranging from the low- to mid-90s, typical for this time of year. That projection also covers the much-anticipated 5 p.m. Saturday practice at M&T Bank Stadium, a workout that could draw upward of 20,000 fans.
Not only did the practice get moved indoors, but it was the first time since last Friday the Ravens did not work out in pads. They had done so Saturday before Sunday's off day, then strapped the full gear back on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.
Even though the tempo of the workout was good, the occasional errors that come with every session prompted Harbaugh to call the entire team to the center of the field during a late-practice period to prompt them to pick up the pace.
Thursday's training-camp session was the first to be moved inside this year, but in a development that pleasantly surprised Ravens oficials, it did not prevent the daily 200-fan allotment from watching the workout.
From 1996 to midway through the 2004 season, the prominent bubble structure that could be seen from quite a distance around the grounds at the previous training complex had only enough room to house the team's weight-training equipment.
For the media's purposes, the structure's most memorable usage took place on the occasion of introducing the team's all-black uniforms, which they have continued to wear occasionally since then. A makeshift stage was set up among the machines in order to show off the quasi-intimidating garb.
To avoid muddy conditions and the subsequent hazardous footing, the Ravens would simply move their drills to the artificial-turf field, which was directly adjacent to the bubble. Still, it was no substitute for a climate-controlled facility.
During the training-camp period, it was especially inconvenient for the Ravens to ditch a full-scale morning practice because of weather and work out in either the McDaniel College gymnasium or at the McDonogh School.
But when that move had to be made, it would often disappoint the thousands of fans that had been waiting by the restraining ropes since 4 a.m. to see them.
This time around, at least the Ravens -- and their rabid fans -- had another option.
J. SMITH HURT, INFIRMARY ROUNDUP: Cornerback Jimmy Smith, who had been fighting leg-cramp and shoulder problems earlier during camp, had to leave Thursday afternoon's indoor shorts-and-shells workout.
According to defensive coordinator Dean Pees, Smith was seen grabbing his back, but no further information was immediately available.
The team's first-round draft pick in 2011, Smith had been mostly healthy during his University of Colorado career, but he missed four games during his rookie year in Baltimore after injuring an ankle during the home opener against Pittsburgh. Last Saturday, he had to leave the field early, because of the shoulder problem.
Two new absences Thursday, both for reasons not immediately disclosed, were left guard Bobbie Williams and defensive lineman Arthur Jones. Also, kicker Justin Tucker was on the field, but given the day off from kicking.
Tucker and Williams were seen on the field, as well as injured veterans Matt Birk -- who sat out his fourth straight session -- and Dennis Pitta, who was wearing a soft cast.
Also missing were wideouts Tandon Doss (hamstring) and Patrick Williams (unknown), running back Bernard Pierce (hamstring), linebacker Josh Bynes (unknown), tackle Bryant McKinnie (back) and linebacker Courtney Upshaw (shoulder). Returning to the field was guard Cordaro Howard.
Still on the Physically Unable To Perform list are wideout David Reed (knee), guard Jah Reid (calf) and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (hamstring).
PRACTICE REPORT: Here are a few highlights from Thursday's practice, the first of training camp to be held indoors:
- Newly signed tight end Billy Bajema got his surname on the back of his jersey and made several over-the-shoulder catches during positional drills.
- Thanks in part to Smith's injury, Cary Williams got picked on quite a bit. He tipped away a goal-line slant for Torrey Smith and was draped all over LaQuan Williams on the sideline, but the former Poly and Maryland wideout made the catch anyway.
- Backup safety Sean Considine continues to be sent after the quarterback, but his coverage skills have been more than adequate. But tight end Davon Drew used his bigger frame to fight off Considine and make a catch.
- Quarterback Joe Flacco looked mostly sharp once again, but defensive end Bryan Hall did knock down one of his passes at the line of scrimmage. Flacco continues to make great tight-window throws, including one over Ray Lewis' shoulder and into Ed Dickson's hands and another one that beat linebacker Dannell Ellerbe and found Dickson.
- Undrafted rookie Deonte Thompson made several outstanding hands catches, one while diving over the middle. But one bounced off Jacoby Jones' hands for a Corey Graham interception.
- At one point, quarterback Curtis Painter found himself facing a defense made up mostly of first-stringers, so -- armed with Michael Oher and Ray Rice on his side of the ball -- Painter stuck mostly to handing off.
- In pass blocking drills, center Antoine McClain did a good job holding off veteran nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu. An aggressive, feisty Sergio Kindle tried three different moves on Kelechi Osemele, but couldn't get by him, and tackle Addison Lawrence pushed Terrence Cody right past the pocket.
- Incumbent kicker Billy Cundiff did all the kicking with Justin Tucker getting a day off, missing just once all day on a kick that sailed over the right post and appeared close to being good.
- The officials that have been working Ravens training-camp practices appear to be the same type of low-level college officials that are going to be working a lot of preseason games because of the league's lockout of its own arbiters. For the most part, they have done a good job, with a few arguments coming from players about pass-interference calls and no-calls.
- New additions to the musical playlist, which carried more punch, echo and resonance indoors, were Santana, U2, Eminem, ZZ Top and Usher.
- One day after ESPN.com correspondent John Clayton was in town to cover the Ravens' practice, his colleague Ashley Fox, a former Philadelphia Inquirer staffer, made an appearance at the UAPC as well.
SALARY CAP UPDATE: With the Ray Rice extension done, the Ravens reportedly now have slightly more than $9 million in salary-cap room for next year.
With the cap set to rise minimally, as it did this year, the Rice deal was good news for a team that could have been facing two problems after this season: being up against the cap and without its franchise running back.
Although $9 million is a lot more than Baltimore had to work with during the just-concluded offseason, it would still not nearly be enough to take care of quarterback Joe Flacco if an extension with him isn't done by the time the new league year starts in March.
If it isn't, then the franchise tag would likely be slapped on Flacco next year, when more than two dozen Ravens are headed for some degree of free agency.
That list includes Ed Reed, who put aside his discontent and desire for a new deal and reported to camp to begin his 11th season in the league.
Here are the Ravens whose contracts are due to run out after each of the next two seasons. See if you can guess where the team's priorities will lie:
QB Joe Flacco, QB Curtis Painter, S Ed Reed, TE Ed Dickson, TE Dennis Pitta, WR David Reed, WR LaQuan Williams, T Ramon Harewood, T Bryant McKinnie, G Justin Boren, G Tony Wragge, NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu, NT Ryan McBean, DL Arthur Jones, LB Paul Kruger, LB Sergio Kindle, LB Albert McClellan, LB Dannell Ellerbe, LB Chavis Williams, LB Josh Bynes, S Emanuel Cook, S Sean Considine, CB Cary Williams, CB Danny Gorrer, LS Morgan Cox, LS Patrick Scales
WR Anquan Boldin, WR Jacoby Jones, T Michael Oher, G Bobbie Williams, FB Vonta Leach, NT Terrence Cody, CB Corey Graham, DE Michael McAdoo
HALL OF SHAME?: For a second straight year, the annual Hall of Fame Game -- the contest that serves as the official leaguewide preseason opener -- is having a most unwelcome spotlight put on it.
Last year, the game was to have pitted St. Louis and Chicago against each other, because Marshall Faulk and Richard Dent were part of the induction class. But the game was canceled because of the NFL lockout.
This year, New Orleans and Arizona are going to take the field this Sunday night (the Saints' Willie Roaf is getting inducted this year), but with replacement officials that have been trying to learn the NFL rulebook on the fly for the last two months (even without the labor dispute, much will be written and said about the Saints' offseason troubles).
The league can't be happy about the tarnished status of the Hall game, for even though it is ultimately another meaningless preseason game, the fact that it is the year's first contest and that it's held in the city where the league was born lends a special aura to it.
We bring this up now because there could be a good chance the Ravens are asked to play in next year's Hall of Fame Game, what with tackle Jonathan Ogden almost certain to be a first-ballot inductee (ex-Ravens such as Vinny Testaverde, Priest Holmes and Steve McNair are also on the 2013 nominees list).
As much as John Harbaugh is a creature of habit, he probably wouldn't like the fact that his preseason schedule would start so early with a game in Canton. But he is also a student of the game and its history, so he might like the opportunity to expose his players to it.
If the Ravens are invited, it would only be the third time a Baltimore-based team would play in the Hall game.
In 1964, the Colts routed the Pittsburgh Steelers, 48-17, at Canton's Fawcett Stadium -- right next door to the Hall -- but the Minnesota Vikings blew out Baltimore, 30-14, in 1982.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: The sweat was practically pouring off free safety Ed Reed after a recent practice, but given his origins -- a Louisiana hometown and playing college football in Miami -- wouldn't he be used to this?
"[There's a] huge difference," Reed said. "That humidity in New Orleans is ridiculous. Makes it feel like it's about 110 [degrees] when it's probably about 95 or something. But in Miami, you get a little breeze.
"Here, it's just hot."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our last entry:
As we noted in yesterday's Ravens Report afternoon post, the 2012 season marks the 15th year of operation for the facility now known as M&T Bank Stadium.
By now, most local fans are aware that when the team premiered in Memorial Stadium in 1996, the Oakland Raiders were the first opponent, Vinny Testaverde scored the first Ravens touchdown and Ray Lewis snared the first Baltimore interception.
Who recorded those distinctions during the first regular-season game on Russell Street?
On Sept. 6, 1998, the venue known then as The New Stadium at Camden Yards hosted its regular-season premiere with a Ravens' 20-13 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Rumors ran wild that weekend that a Steelers "Terrible Towel" had been buried in the cement used to help build the stadium, but no such maneuver was ever proven.
But unfortunately for the home team, the first touchdown didn't come until the fourth quarter of the game, and it proved to be too little, too late.
Quarterback Eric Zeier cut loose with a 64-yard touchdown pass to ex-University of Maryland speedster Jermaine Lewis, who had been selected during the fifth round of the draft two years before. The Ravens did not score a home rushing touchdown at their new place until Priest Holmes did it two weeks later against Cincinnati during a Sunday-night game.
As for the first interception, it represented an instant dividend.
The '98 Ravens' top draft pick, University of Miami cornerback Duane Starks, picked off a Kordell Stewart pass during the second quarter of the first Russell Street home opener.
Posted Aug. 2, 2012