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OWINGS MILLS — As the defending AFC North champion Baltimore Ravens hit the field this week for their first voluntary minicamp, coach Brian Billick is confident that his football team is much further ahead than last year at this time.
A year ago, the Ravens had yet to execute a trade for veteran quarterback Steve McNair.
So, the three-time Pro Bowl passer missed nearly the entire offseason until June when he was acquired for a fourth-round draft pick from the Tennessee Titans and began a crash course in the playbook.
Plus, the team had question marks at safety with unheralded fifth-round pick Dawan Landry later emerging as an all-rookie selection and was looking for a third wide receiver to develop behind starters Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton. That wound up being fourth-round pick Demetrius Williams, whom Baltimore scouts and team executives regard as the steal of last year’s draft.
Today as the Ravens reconvene at their training complex for the second day of a three-day minicamp that concludes Friday, there isn’t nearly as much uncertainty outside of the offensive line being in flux since right tackle Tony Pashos departed in free agency and offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo was cut.
McNair is handing off and throwing passes to newly-acquired starting running back Willis McGahee for the first time.
"We have an accelerated starting point from where we were last year," Billick said.
"We know what we have by way of some of the moving parts. The quarterback position, the third wide receiver position, there were a number of things we didn’t know that we do now know. That allows you to accelerate what you’re going to do as a team and prepare for it."
McNair, who was arrested on a driving under the influence charge May 9 in Nashville, Tenn., is expected to speak with reporters following today’s practice.
This minicamp is concentrated heavily on the passing game, including pass protection assignments and routes for McGahee, who’s expected to have a much larger pass-catching role than former starter Jamal Lewis did.
The Ravens, who are expected to hold training camp competitions at center between Mike Flynn and Chris Chester, at right guard between incumbent Keydrick Vincent and first-round draft pick Ben Grubbs and in the return game between B.J. Sams and Yamon Figurs, also have the rookie class mixing with the veterans for the first time this week.
"When the veterans get here, it’s ‘Shut up, rookie, get out of the way,’" Billick said. "It’s a tough environment and they have got to be ready for that transition. The pace picks up dramatically."
NOTES: Linebackers Bart Scott and Jarret Johnson and tight end Todd Heap are among the other veterans attending the camp. … Outside linebacker/defensive end Dan Cody said he has recovered fully from a late-season knee injury and is expecting to contend for a situational pass rusher role after two injury-plagued seasons. Cody has bulked up a lot in the weight room since last season, mostly in the upper body.