Friday, July 25, 2008

Baltimore Ravens Camp Notes: Harbaugh Era Officially Underway

As I arrived at training camp this morning and walked on to the turf just behind the goal posts closest to the gym at McDaniel College, it seemed almost scripted that the first person I would notice was Jonathan Ogden. There he was dressed in a khaki floppy hat, black t-shirt, loose jeans and flip flops. I couldn’t help but think as this imposing figure peered out on to the field that his role as an observer and fan marked the end of one Ravens era and the beginning of another.

A few of the players who J.O. has played with were absent today from practice. They included Chris McAlister, Fabian Washington and LeRon McClain (all listed on the non-football injury list). Others placed on the PUP (physically unable to perform) list include: Ed Reed, Demetrius Williams, Daniel Wilcox and David Pittman.

Now it could be that the Ravens wanted to circumvent some roster restrictions and take a better look at some players, essentially expanding the roster by leveraging the PUP list. PUP list players do not count against the active roster and they can not practice with the team. They may attend team meetings and such players can be activated any time during training camp. If a PUP list member isn’t activated prior to the start of the season, they can not be activated until after Week 6.

Others missing from today’s session include Samari Rolle (grieving loss of Dad) and Terrell Suggs (protesting franchise player designation).

The pace of camp is noticeably different under John Harbaugh who is just as noticeably much less vocal during practice than his predecessor Brian Billick. The tempo is much quicker and while Harbaugh is relatively quiet his coaches are much more engaged than Billick’s assistants and they reprimand players in much more animated ways. There is also much more contact as evidenced by today’s first full team practice which required full gear. In the past, live contact wouldn’t occur under Brian Billick until a few days into camp.

As the semi-live scrimmaging got under way on the gymnasium side of the field, quarterbacks and receivers took on defensive backs on the opposite end in one on one match-ups. The semi-live scrimmaging pitted 9 on 9 with running plays being featured. On the first run Willis McGahee took the handoff from Troy Smith and was quickly greeted by Bart Scott and Haloti Ngata for a 1 yard gain. The offense enjoyed some success on stretch runs as McGahee and Ray Rice demonstrated nice change of direction skills and awareness in heavy traffic.

Overall the rookie Rice looked a bit more ready to play today than McGahee although the incumbent starter certainly had some fine moments. Rice has a very good burst and he can get lost in traffic which creates problems for the defense. The only knock against Rice today would be a tendency to do too much moving east and west and not enough north and south. Also during these drills, Jared Gaither mixed it up a bit with an undisclosed defensive lineman. The raucous was quickly squelched by other D-linemen. Trevor Pryce put and exclamation point on the peace making by jumping up and tapping Gaither on the helmet.

On the other end of the field Kyle Boller and Joe Flacco took turns trying to hit their receivers challenged by the corners. Newly acquired CB Anwar Phillips from Penn State was victimized fairly regularly. On a play that featured the morning’s best throw, Derrick Mason beat Phillips hauling in a high arcing spiral from Flacco for a score from 45 yards out. Phillips was also beaten by WR Patrick Carter on a 15 yard out to the left side line. Carter made a great catch on the throw from Boller. Later Boller hit Mark Clayton on a 45 yard strike beating Frank Walker on the play.

Troy Smith switched ends of the field with Boller and was intercepted by Corey Ivy at the goal line. Ivy made a terrific adjustment on the football to haul in what appeared to be an overthrown pass. After making the INT, Ivy chucked the ball into the stands. Smith bounced back to hit Matt Willis on a deep throw down the right side line for a score over Derrick Martin.

At times today the quarterbacks seemed a bit unsure, each of them calling for unnecessary time outs. Smith was the biggest culprit today, twice calling for time and then trotting over to confer with Cam Cameron.

The team featured some screen passes today and contrary to the Brian Billick era, they actually appeared to be well orchestrated. McGahee, Rice and Cory Ross all looked very good following their blockers each catching all screen tosses without incident. One of the better looking screens featured Rice who was set up to the right. The play was sold extremely well by Flacco who locked in on receivers to his left before he quickly reset to his right and hit Rice in stride.

Flacco was at the controls during the 2:00 drill from midfield. On the first play he hit Todd Heap for a gain of 15. After incomplete passes to Willis and Mason, the rookie hit Mason for a successful third down conversion.

Maintaining his composure and not pressed by the clock, Flacco delivered a strike to Clayton on the right hash running a slant for another gain of 15 yards. Flacco then used his only time out with 20 seconds to go. After an incomplete pass, Flacco hit Mason for a gain of 4 to the 1. He then raced to the LOS and spiked the ball leaving 2 seconds on the clock. The team opted to go for the TD and Flacco’s pass was batted down by Antwan Barnes.


Defense: Dan Cody practiced but left the field limping. He seemed to be favoring his right leg. He did return to the practice field later. Prior to nicking up his leg Cody made a nice play rushing from the left side to bat down a Flacco pass…Edgar Jones may be climbing the depth charts. He took several snaps in place of the protesting Terrell Suggs. He beat Adam Terry badly on one play causing Terry to lock his arms around Jones from behind…Jim Leonhard filled in on the first team for the PUP-listed Ed Reed…Ronnie Prude just as he has in the past, used his hands too much and not his feet not enough. He would have been flagged repeatedly for illegal use of hands. When he doesn’t use his hands, he struggles to close on the receiver…Derrick Martin made a nice interception on a deep pass by Flacco down the right side…Jarret Johnson had his face mask pulled rushing off the right side by Oniel Cousins…Phillips was juked badly in the open field by quarterback Troy Smith.

Offense: On the very first play of live scrimmaging McGahee was hit behind the line and fumbled. The defense recovered and John Harbaugh, player referee on the play, rushed to the pile and signaled “Defense’s ball.”…Boller was the only QB of the three not to be intercepted today but he still showed his unfortunate knack for unforced errors. He dropped a direct snap during live scrimmaging and quickly dove on the ball. Later from the shotgun he dropped a perfect snap, knocking the ball up in the air, retrieving it and then running into the line for a short gain. On the plus side for Boller he did show accuracy on intermediate throws from the numbers in and showed a nice touch at times on screens and swing passes. He hit Justin Green rolling out of the backfield from the right in stride to enable a 15 yard pick up. Boller delivered a strike to Heap flanked wide right. Heap dropped it, his only apparent flaw of the day. Boller also hit Figurs 18 yards down field on a skinny post to the left hash. Surprisingly the spindly receiver held on to the football and didn’t appear intimidated by the oncoming Tom Zbikowski…P.J. Daniels looked spry in limited action. He was forced to the sidelines with what appeared to be an injured left arm…Troy Smith had a fair day outside of the mental miscues that forced unwelcomed time outs. He showed poise in the pocket and was accurate on most throws. He did fumble an exchange on an inside handoff out of the shotgun. Smith made up for it later when he faked a similar handoff and kept it going around the right side. He faked CB Phillips completely out of his shoes creating a ton of real estate to navigate down the sideline. Jim Harbaugh blew the play dead after the fake probably to avoid placing his QB at risk. On the very next play, Smith threw a strike to Mason on a crossing route 23 yards down field that Mason should have hung on to…Justin Harper seems to be 4th on the depth chart at WR for the time being as he filled in for Demetrius Williams in three receiver sets. Harper was very solid particularly early in the practice using his body well to shield defenders and snaring balls adeptly from the air…Later on Marcus Smith would show what he’s capable of catching everything thrown his way and much like Harper, using his size to shield defenders. After a catch of a Flacco toss thrown behind Smith, Flacco shouted, “Nice catch Marcus!”…Mark Clayton was inconsistent dropping a pass on an intermediate crossing route…Yamon Figurs was used in four receiver sets…Joe Flacco’s outing was decent showing a quick release but he still needs to make his decisions a bit more quickly. Coaches expect that to come with time and familiarity. On one play he bought some time outside the pocket to his left and instead of throwing the ball away as we’ve seen Boller do often in the past, he re-set and fired a strike to Allen Patrick working back towards his QB from the right side.

Jared Gaither, Ben Grubbs and Jason Brown were the standouts on the offensive line. Gaither held his own against Trevor Pryce and he made the right switch on a stunting Haloti Ngata picking up the behemoth defensive tackle. Ngata did drive Gaither back somewhat but not enough to disrupt the throw…Tight end may be a concern for the team. Aaron Walker and Adam Bergen filled in for the injured Daniel Wilcox. Walker made a nice catch over the middle in traffic and looks like the better receiver of the two. Bergen looks to be more of a blocking TE. He was chastised by Cameron late in practice after failing to haul in what looked like a catchable ball delivered by Flacco.

Special Teams: The field goal unit practiced 36, 41 and 46 yard field goals followed by a fake field goal and throw with the LOS being the 28. They first ran through the sequence with Matt Stover. His 36 and 41 yard attempts were dangerously close to the left upright and from my angle, I couldn’t tell if they were good or not. The 46 yard boot was strong and pretty much dead center. The fake field goal had Sam Koch rolling right. With no one in front of him, Koch could have run the football but he patiently waited for Heap to break free. Heap tipped the wobbly pass over the defender and to himself and waltzed into the end zone.

Piotr Czech then stepped in for Stover and hit on all of the prescribed field goal attempts although the second was a low liner. On the fake to end this sequence Koch rolled to his left and threw across his body to a streaking Yamon Figurs running right to left and into the end zone. The pass fell incomplete.


One team official shared a story about Director of Player Development O.J. Brigance who delivered a very impassioned speech during the team meetings on Wednesday, inspiring a standing ovation. The ovation morphed into the entire team and coaching staff coming together in a circle around John Harbaugh and Brigance. Brigance is battling ALS and the demons of this disease have weakened the once sculpted body of the former Ravens’ linebacker. But they have done nothing to weaken his resolve, purpose and determination and with every breath he takes, every increasingly difficult step he makes, Brigance believes he will defeat ALS. Here’s to him doing exactly that!


The "Armchair" QB said...

Injuries are always a concern, but this early it's hard to determine which are serious and which are of the "goldbrick" variety to avoid practicing in the heat. Cody's limping off the field is further evidence of how injury prone he is. As to the QBs, there really isn't a controversy. Flacco represents the "future", Boller the "past", with Troy Smith destined to be the present starter. With such a young, inexperienced "O" line, it dosen't hurt that Smith is the most agile of the three because he'll probably need to escape the rush often this year! Hopefully, they'll spend as much time on the "mental" aspects as the physical, since this team developed a reputation in recent years for unnecssary infractions during games.

Harryos29 said...

HARRY O 29 7/26/08
Tony, thank you for being our EYEs and EARs at Training camp on the first day. I hope to be up there next week to take all of this in with my own eyes and ears.
You are so right, with J.O. on the side lines, it is truly a new Era.
Again..this SITE is the BEST..keep up the GREAT?

Anonymous said...

I second Harry O -- thanks for the input Tony.