Practice At Stevenson: Going Forward To The Past
NOTEBOOK: THREE MORE PLAYERS RETURN; BIRK HELPS SCHOOLCHILDREN
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- Instead of going back to the future, the Ravens moved forward into the past.
That's the best way to describe Sunday afternoon's third and final stadium-style practice conducted at Stevenson University, a piece of land that not only used to be known as Villa Julie College, but served as the year-round training headquarters for both the Colts and Ravens.
Many younger fans were there to line up in a 100-yard-long, two-deep setup and participate in the age-old training-camp tradition of getting autographs, something that could have never been done on these grounds before.
Even though the crowd enthusiastically greeted the five busloads of players when they pulled up shortly before the 3 p.m. start time, they were drenched by a heavy rainshower -- complete with occasional thunder -- which rolled in 30 minutes before their arrival.
Still, it evoked memories to see the team come through the same chain-link-fence-type opening that Ravens teams of the past walked through to begin their practice sessions.
"This is a beautiful setting," head coach John Harbaugh said. "I was told some stories and I know this looks nothing like it did before."
The team's training-camp schedule -- which included practices earlier this month at M&T Bank Stadium and Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis -- actually ended last Wednesday, but that mattered little to the team's rabid fan base, which, while filling nearly every seat in the place, seemed undeterred by Friday's 27-12 preseason loss to the Detroit Lions.
The present-day purple-clad team moved into the facility -- which had been used as a police training ground during the NFL's absence -- and stayed there from 1996 until the 2004 bye week in mid-October, when they moved into their current One Winning Drive building, now known as the Under Armour Performance Center.
Sunday, they practiced in brand-new, 3,500-seat Mustang Stadium, which currently serves as the home of one of the nation's newest Division III college programs, as well as one of the nation's best men's lacrosse teams at that level.
The seats were filled with fans, who had won an online lottery for the free tickets, a different distribution method than the one used at the downtown or Annapolis sessions.
But when the Ravens trained here before, the front-office space could barely be opened; at the first media event, in February 1996, many new sections of renovation drywall had just been hung and many office spaces were not even completed.
Not only that, the present-day football field -- currently sporting the same SportExe Momentum Turf used at M&T Bank Stadium -- was made of AstroTurf; half of it was the site of the team's weight-room "bubble."
From the outside, it appeared to be the venue for an indoor gridiron, but it's where the team's weight equipment was laid out, as well as the offices for the Ravens' strength and conditioning coaching staff.
A neighboring unlined field served as the team's main practice rectangle, with both surrounded by the same kind of trees that line the team's UAPC fields on three sides.
The main field, now used mostly for the school's intramural activities, was the site of unorthodox occurrences, such as an obstacle course many special-teams hopefuls had to negotiate, as well as the weekly interior-lineman field-goal kicking contest.
The storage shed that houses the groundskeeper's equipment is still there, as well as the nearby building that was home to the team's front-office employees (upper floor) and the spartan-like locker room.
Kevin Byrne, the Ravens' senior public/community relations vice president, regaled Harbaugh with tales of the facility's past.
Byrne is one of a few front-office employees, as well as players such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, who actually reported to work daily at the older facility. Byrne gave Harbaugh a tour of the grounds before the practice.
"I told him that it used to be the police academy before [the Ravens got there]," Byrne recalled. "Obviously, the city hadn't put a lot of money into the place, but it looks a lot better now."
Good enough for the Ravens to make it the kind of destination to which they could travel forward ... well back into the past.
INFIRMARY: A published report indicated that special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg's absence from Sunday's practice was because of the death of his mother. The team's 38-year-old, Jamaican-born, first-year special teams assistant Chris Hewitt -- who worked at the college level at Rutgers and Notre Dame -- took over that unit.
Some of the crowd's loudest cheers when the players first hit the field were for ex-Maryland receiver and 2011 second-round pick Torrey Smith, who set several Ravens rookie receiving records.
But the partisans were perhaps cheered more by the fact that Smith -- who did his usual pre-practice JUGS gun work right in front of them -- was fully dressed and practicing despite a nagging ankle problem, which kept him off the field and out of the preseason home opener against Detroit.
Also returning to practice were wideout Devin Goda (unknown), who was absent for three straight practices, and former Oakland Raiders linebacker and unrestricted free-agent signing Darryl Blackstock, who had missed the last seven sessions with a groin problem.
Fourth-string quarterback Chester Stewart, who did not play against the Lions, was dressed and practicing, for he did not have any lingering injury concerns.
But defensive end Pernell McPhee, who battled a few injury problems earlier during camp, was not present, because of a death in the family. Also, guard/tackle Jah Reid, who only recently returned from a calf injury to begin his on-field work, was clad only in a jersey and shorts despite being on the field with his position-unit mates. He also did not play against Detroit.
Tight ends Ed Dickson (sprained shoulder) and Dennis Pitta (broken hand) continued their long-term absences, Dickson for a sixth straight practice and Pitta for a 13th straight session.
Defensive tackle Ryan McBean (broken ankle, dislocation) has reportedly had successful surgery on his condition, but has not yet been officially placed on season-ending injured reserve. Once he is, he would join linebacker/defensive lineman Michael McAdoo on that list.
Also, linebacker Josh Bynes (cracked vertebrae) missed a 13th straight practice.
Wearing red mesh jerseys as a precautionary measure were linebacker Sergio Kindle and safety Sean Considine, neither of whom appeared to have any physical maladies coming out of the Detroit game.
As has been the case for the entire camp, wideout David Reed (knee surgery) stayed on the Physically Unable To Perform list, while linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon surgery) remains on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury sheet.
PRACTICE REPORT: When the Ravens took to the field for their padded practice, conditions were overcast and much cooler than mid-August used to feel at the facility now known as Mustang Stadium.
Sunday marked the first of three straight days of practice before Wednesday's gameday-eve off day. Following Thursday's key third preseason game against Jacksonville (7:30 p.m.; WBAL-TV, Comcast SportsNet; WIYY-FM), the Ravens will be off Friday. Future practice dates and times have yet to be announced.
Here are a few highlights from the Sunday afternoon session at Stevenson University:
- For the first-string offense, the Ravens tried a combination of Bryant McKinnie at left tackle, rookies Kelechi Osemele and Gino Gradkowski at the guards, Matt Birk at center and Michael Oher at right tackle. Backup tight end Matt Balasavage lined up at fullback, even though Vonta Leach was at practice.
- Defensively, Terrence Cody returned to the first-string nose tackle spot, playing in between Ma'ake Kemoeatu and Arthur Jones with Haloti Ngata sitting out for the time being. Top draft pick Courtney Upshaw -- who earned plenty of playing time Friday night, but didn't play particularly well -- was also in with the "ones."
- During one-on-one coverage drills, Dorian Graham tried a stutter-and-go move on Asa Jackson, which didn't quite work as far as going deep was concerned, but Graham did make an underneath catch. Also, Danny Gorrer stepped in front of Patrick Williams for an easy breakup over the middle.
- Tommy Streeter seemed to blow by Chykie Brown quite easily, but the cornerback recovered to break up the deep pass. Logan Payne also got past Jackson, but the smallish rookie ended up causing an incompletion. Also, Lardarius Webb tipped away a pass for Jacoby Jones at the last possible second.
- During red-zone drills, Balasavage ran a nice route to the pylon and seemed to catch a well-thrown ball from Tyrod Taylor, but Emanuel Cook's coverage eventually forced the ball loose.
- During a period devoted to blitz pickup, no one reached Joe Flacco before he rifled a 25-yard pass down the seam to Jones. Also, Upshaw nearly jumped offsides before one play, but got back in time before the snap. But Webb did manage to get into a passing lane to knock away a ball intended for Billy Bajema.
- Bajema extended himself to make a fine catch of a Flacco pass over the middle during a team drill, and was the only available option on the quarterback's right-side rollout. Another backup tight end, Bruce Figgins, made a nice spinning catch in traffic right in front of the crowd.
- During 7-on-7 drills, Logan Payne made a tough catch with linebacker Dannell Ellerbe draped all over him. Balasavage went down the seam to catch a Taylor pass with Cook closing in from the middle of the field.
- The linemen did one-on-one blocking/rushing techniques, during which Tony Wragge held off Terrence Cody and Bryan Hall easily blew past Osemele. Also, Paul Kruger speed-rushed McKinnie and Arthur Jones rip-moved Ramon Harewood.
- Flacco directed a lively two-minute drill, during which he connected with Torrey Smith on a slant, Bajema over the deep middle and, after a McKinnie false start, Tandon Doss on a touchdown.
- Billy Cundiff was 4-for-4 during the early kicking period, converting kicks from 30, 36, 39 and 44 yards despite three high snaps. Justin Tucker was 4-for-5, missing wide left from 44 but booming a 53-yarder between the uprights.
- New additions to the music playlist included Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song;" U2's "I Will Follow;" Devo's "Whip It;" the hip-hop hit "Jump Around;" as well as Jerry Reed's classic "Smokey And The Bandit" theme, "Eastbound And Down."
HOW DID THEY DO?: Last week in Ravens Report, we singled out five players we thought had to have a good day in order for them to remain in the chase to make the team.
How did they do? Let's take a look:
- Wide receiver Deonte Thompson has wowed fans in training camp with his downfield speed and good hands. He further raised his stock with a co-team-high three catches during the Atlanta preseason opener.
But Friday night, he was targeted five times -- tied for the second-highest total on the team -- with no catches. Whether it was a case of getting other receivers into the mix or Thompson simply not being where he had to be is anyone's guess, but in a live situation, his performance represented a big dropoff.
- Tackle Jack Cornell, who has gotten looks at guard and center as well during camp, played during second-half garbage time, when the Ravens had seven possessions -- same as during the first half -- but were forced to punt four times and were intercepted once. To make things worse, one of the punts was blocked.
All told, the Ravens held the ball for a mere 12:32 during the second half and didn't move the ball nearly as well as the first-stringers did.
- Kicker Billy Cundiff was good on field-goal tries of 33 and 44 yards and put both of his kickoffs into the end zone. The first went 9 yards deep and was unreturned and the second was returned from 1 yard deep.
- Defensive tackle Bryan Hall was one of 30 Ravens that registered at least one defensive or special-teams tackle. Hall had one solo stop and one assist during the third quarter, stopping ex-Maryland quarterback Shaun Hill on a scramble and teaming with Chavis Williams to stuff a run play for 2 yards.
- Despite facing a Lions secondary depleted by injuries and a lack of depth, quarterback Curtis Painter could not duplicate his three-touchdown performance in Atlanta. Painter completed 10 of 20 passes for 86 yards and an interception, playing to a passer rating of 40.8.
BACK TO SCHOOL: For the past few years, the NFL has adopted the "Back To Football" slogan as a play on the "Back To School" promotions that are everywhere this time of year.
Saturday, less than 24 hours after putting a half's worth of work at M&T Bank Stadium against the Detroit Lions, center Matt Birk participated in a program that distributed school supplies to 150 Baltimore-area children at Walmart.
"Education is incredibly important to me, and through the generous support of Walmart, our hope is that we are removing an obstacle in the way of children learning," Birk said. BBy providing school supplies, we hope that children can center their focus on learning, instead of worrying about not having all of the necessary school supplies."
Birk participated in the program in conjunction with his own HIKE Foundation (Hope, Inspiration, Knowledge, Education), which was established 10 years ago, when he was still a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
For his tireless community efforts, Birk was named the Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year in 2011, one of several winners with Baltimore-area ties that have taken home that award throughout the years.
Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas was the first-ever winner of the award in 1970. The award was re-named in honor of Payton, the former all-time leading rusher, in 1999.
QUOTE OF THE DAY I: A young fan at Stevenson, who didn't quite have a grasp of the players' various functions, asked her father, "Why does Joe Flacco have a red jersey on?"
"Because he's a quarterback," her father answered.
"Quarterback?" she said. "I thought he was a player."
QUOTE OF THE DAY II: Even though the tension surrounding Ray Rice's contract extension has long since passed, we do have a taste of how ugly the dialogue could have become.
The Ravens won't have to face Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew during Thursday night's preseason game, but here's what Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union had to say about Jones-Drew's holdout, in an open-letter form directed at the running back:
"It's not too late. Players understand the business end. Teammates will welcome you back with open arms once that stubborn streak of yours diminishes enough to report for duty.
"On the other hand, fans who adored you for years might be a different story. There's probably more of them who see the team's point about honoring your contract. Owner Shad Khan certainly does, telling a national writer at Friday's game that your absence 'doesn't even move the needle.' The longer this holdout goes on, especially if the offense keeps looking respectable, the more awkward it becomes to redevelop that chemistry.
"If you want to hold out for the entire preseason or longer, that's your choice. Just remember, the NFL is a lot like life. It moves on, with or without you."
Posted Aug. 19, 2012