The Ravens practiced in Owings Mills today, their first of the final three mini-camp practices before they head into summer camp on July 31. Today, tomorrow and Thursday the teams will pace through non-mandatory exercises and drills intended to prepare them for what they all hope will be a productive camp and preseason. After Thursday’s practice, most of the coaches and players will be seldom seen or heard from as they rest their bodies and spend time with their families before they begin a six month grind more popularly known as the NFL season.
Today marked the first time that Steve McNair wore a Ravens helmet and purple No. 9 jersey as a professional. He began his workout inconspicuously positioned amongst his teammates during stretching exercises, flanked to the left and right by P.J. Daniels and Cory Ross.
The atmosphere seemed relaxed during stretching with Derrick Mason up front along with Mark Clayton and Kyle Boller. Mason joked with assistant wide receivers and quarterbacks coach Jedd Fisch about boxing.
The team wore their shells today (light shoulder padding) as opposed to last week when they wore practice jerseys only. As they completed their stretching, the players broke out into their respective units and while doing so, Brian Billick encouraged his squad to “finish strong – last three days.”
On his first snap under center, McNair pitched right to Jamal Lewis who accelerated quickly through the catch. On his second and third snaps, it was more of the same as McNair handed to Mike Anderson followed by a pitch left to Lewis. On his fourth snap, McNair completed a short pass to Todd Heap on a crossing pattern.
McNair looked fit and spry although his practiced would have to be described as a bit sloppy. His intermediate passes during skinny post route drills fell short several times and on a few out patterns his ball was delivered low. Jim Fassel instructed McNair to get his throws up reminding the veteran that a mistake high on an out was ok because misses and dropped passes will fall incomplete out of bounds. Billick later described McNair’s first day with the club as rookie-like.
McNair did not participate in the two minute offense nor did he take snaps during red zone drills. He watched and studied as part of what will be an ongoing attempt to get him comfortable with the offensive terminology. After practice McNair would admit that the terminology will be his most difficult challenge and he also stressed the importance of developing a rapport with receivers not named Mason. Later in practice McNair hit Derrick Mason in 7 on 7 drills for a 58 yard score beating Chris McAlister. McNair intentionally threw the ball behind both Mason and CMac to allow Mason to adjust while CMac’s back was turned. Mason did exactly that. The score was reminiscent of the TD pass from McNair to McCareins during the wild card playoff game in January 2004.
McNair did do a nice job of checking down through progressions when encountering various zone coverages, usually dumping the ball off to Jamal Lewis or Todd Heap. McNair stared down his receiver once and S Robb Butler (’05 UDFA from Robert Morris) running with the first unit today, broke on the ball and nearly picked it off for a score. Butler later was given props by Frank Gansz, Jr. for his special teams play.
McNair followed that with a couple of completions, one to Todd Heap who made a great catch in traffic and another on a perfectly thrown ball to Devard Darling for 12 yards. On that play, Bart Scott broke back into coverage in the short area outside the right hash and McAlister had deep and sideline responsibility. Neither defender missed the assignment on the play – it was strictly a case of McNair threading the needle between the two.
McNair later hit Mason on a 15 yard inside out pattern that did exactly that to Samari Rolle. McNair to Mason over Rolle. That had to bring back practice memories for the newest Raven.
Kyle Boller began his day as the No. 2 QB somewhat unenthusiastically. His body language early on suggested a slightly depressed state of mind. It also came through in his cadence. But Boller picked it up later and had the better day of the top two quarterbacks. His fastball was on target and his cadence was effective later on as he drew the defense offsides in the red zone on third down. He did fail to pick up a blitzing Jamaine Winborne who was active today. In a live game, Winborne would have sacked Boller coming in untouched as Boller missed the read. Boller later threw into double coverage down the sideline to rookie tight end Quinn Sypniewski. Winborne picked off the pass and received encouraging props from Ed Reed.
Earlier during the practice, Sypniewski dropped a soft pass from Boller during drills with no one covering him. After the drop, Brian Billick chastised Sypniewski saying, “You get three of those a year at best!”
Devard Darling may have had his best practice that these eyes have seen of the third year player. He was where he needed to be on all routes and caught all balls thrown his way. He still is a bit heavy on his feet while cutting yet he seems to be improving in that area as evidenced by the space he was able to create between himself and defenders while running intermediate routes.
Darling’s practice may have even caught the eye of Rex Ryan who instructed impressive UDFA CB Ronnie Prude to “Get on 81!” Prude tried but on a mid range throw over the middle in traffic, Darling wrestled the pass away from Prude, breaking away for the score.
Other notables: Musa Smith ran smoothly and shed the long sweat pants that he wore last week….Today, Dan Cody wore similar sweats. Cody saw more action today, alternating between LB and DE. He dropped into coverage and moved fairly well down field with the kickoff team….Drew Olson was in camp today, having completed his undergraduate studies at UCLA….Brian Bratton made a very nice leaping grab of a high fastball from Boller on a skinny post….Mark Clayton removed himself from most drills as a precaution against what Brian Billick called a “pesky” hamstring twinge. He did stay late to work through a few catching drills that didn’t require running….Clarence Moore was dressed but did not practice….Adalius Thomas, Jonathan Ogden, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Mike Flynn did not participate in today’s practice….Gary Stills took more snaps on defense with AD and Suggs out and beat LT Rob Droege badly on one pass play….Adam Terry filled in for Ogden. Terry showed good open field skills when pulling during running plays but was beaten badly by Trevor Pryce on one pass play….Dawan Landry made a nice stop on Todd Heap on a third and 2 conversion attempt….B.J. Sams days as an offensive player appear to be over as he continues to wear the defensive white jersey. Last season he was used very sparingly in the secondary. His performance will be something to watch during summer camp and in the preseason. Cory Ross could be someone that might press Sams for a roster spot. While clearly Sams is the incumbent and first on the depth chart, a player’s versatility could break a tie of equals in camp.. Ross looks good coming out of the backfield as a receiver….