They say that the waiting is the hardest part and as of 4:15 this afternoon, the waiting will be over when the Ravens introduce Steve McNair as their newest member. The excitement generated by McNair’s arrival is not only that of the team’s fans, it is shared amongst the Owings Mills administrative staff, the coaches, the media and of course the players.
Compared to Tuesday’s practice, this one was certainly less spirited. The buzz about McNair’s arrival may have been a bit of a distraction to the team’s play on the field today during camp drills. In all fairness, how could it not be as McNair stood tall there on the field, front and center next to Jim Fassel, Rick Neuheisel and the other quarterbacks wearing a polo shirt, blue jean shorts, white sneakers and designer shades. McNair’s expressions were joyous as his smile beamed from ear to ear.
After initial stretching the team broke down by unit to go through traditional drills. The receivers and tight ends focused on dig routes in the short and intermediate areas. The team then segued into a full team two minute drill.
The first defensive unit (this was a nickel package) included Suggs, Pryce (at NT), AD, Jarret Johnson, Bart Scott, Mike Smith, Jamaine Winborne, Samari Rolle, Chris McAlister, Ronnie Prude and Ed Reed who returned to the practice field.
The two minute drill started at the Ravens own 30 behind the call of Kyle Boller. Brian Bratton and Devard Darling ran outside at receiver along with Derrick Mason. Mark Clayton sat out due to a tweaked hamstring that is not believed to be serious. His absence is said to be primarily precautionary. Clarence Moore will not be available until summer camp while he recovers from a sports hernia.
This nickel package blanketed the receivers as Boller found very little downfield, preferring the short out routes to Mason and Darling. The first unit maneuvered the ball down to the defense’s 40 yard line where they spiked the ball on first down with just under a minute to go. On second down, Boller threw a curious pass to Darling for a one yard gain out of bounds.
Facing a third and 9 from the 39, Boller threw incomplete down field to Bratton running a post. A defender just got a finger tip on the ball, enough to distract Bratton as the slightly deflected pass went through his arms as he neared the goal line. The incompletion forced a punt. Boller had a decent practice considering the obvious distractions but really wasn’t involved in anything significant today, good or bad.
The second unit then took over led by Brian St. Pierre. Pierre shows poise under pressure and throws an accurate pass but during this practice, he often threw into zone coverage and into the welcoming arms of defenders on four occasions. Robb Butler, Steve Paris, Ronnie Prude and B.J. Ward all pick off St. Pierre passes this morning, although the last one was the result of a tipped pass caroming off the fingers of Bratton. Ward made a very athletic adjustment on the tip. St. Pierre later on during red zone drills threw a nice pass to Derrick Mason at the back of the end zone, with Mason showcasing excellent back line footwork.
St. Pierre also did a nice job of feeling pressure down around the 8 yard line, forcing the defense to commit to the run and then dumping the ball outside to the left to P.J. Daniels for a score. Corey Ivy, a fiery competitor, exclaimed that St. Pierre had crossed the line of scrimmage. An intern on the sidelines working the LOS marker said that he didn’t cross the line. Ivy then chastised, “Ah man, you must be an offensive guy!”
Speaking of offensive guys, that would certainly have been a description of Brian Billick during his career as the Ravens head coach. If this mini camp is an indication, such a description is no longer accurate. Billick seems to be spending equal amounts of time on both sides of the football, allowing Jim Fassel full control of the offense.
But back to St. Pierre’s two minute drill, the former Steeler led his unit down to the 5 yard line, set up by a 20 yard pass to Rufus Skillern over the outstretched arms of David Pittman. The pass was thrown while Pittman’s back was turned. St. Pierre exhibited a nice touch and Skillern reached over Pittman’s back to snatch the toss. The drive eventually stalled at the 5 and ended with a field goal.
Frank Gansz, Jr.’s troops practiced kickoffs today. Gansz described the twenty yards between the point of kickoff and midfield as the speed zone in which all players on the coverage team “haul ass!” Gansz emphasized the importance of spacing imploring his unit to be 5 yards apart at the 50, 4 yards apart at the 40, 3 yards apart on the 30 before converging as a unit on the ball carrier. Upon convergence, two safeties stay back with about 10 yards of spacing from the pack while remaining outside the hash marks in order to protect against misdirection or cutbacks.
A few other observations….
Mike Smith made the defensive calls while filling in for Ray Lewis….The kickoff specialists each had two opportunities. On Aaron Elling’s attempts, he hit his first to the 3 and his second to the goal line. Sam Koch’s first kick reached the goal line while his second landed at the 8.…Terrell Suggs was extremely enthusiastic, chasing down Jamal Lewis well after a running play was whistled dead trying to strip the ball from Jamal. He also met Devard Darling head on during a quick slant route. The route appeared to be a check down from Boller while facing a blitz. Had it been a live game, Suggs would probably have been featured on the ESPN “Jacked Up” segment. Despite limited contact without pads, Darling was a bit tentative which prompted Suggs to chant, “Don’t be scared! Don’t be scared!” Suggs then gave Darling an encouraging pat as he directed him back towards the offensive huddle.
P.S. If the Orioles front office was smart, they would have Steve McNair throw out the first pitch tonight….just a thought!