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Weather was once again on the side of the Ravens as they practiced under partly cloudy skies with temps hovering around 80.  It did feel a bit more humid today.
The most notable difference of today’s practice was the absence of Brian Billick who was attending his daughter Keegan’s graduation.  The practice itself was highly spirited and the coaches had to step in at times to tame the feistiness.  Tempers did not flare.  The units were battling and a competitive spirit gripped the combatants. 
This very upbeat practice followed a practice cut short yesterday by Coach Billick who one team official described as being not too happy with Tuesday’s effort.  Billick challenged the team to work harder and be more focused during his absence and they responded.
The MIA’s today included Steve McNair, Drew Olson (Europe), Damien Linson (undisclosed), Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee, Mike Anderson, Rob Abiamiri (Europe), Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, Chris McAlister, Samari Rolle, Jim Cottrell (Europe), Mike Smith (shoulder), Ray Lewis, Dan Cody (knee) and Terrell Suggs.  Veterans that have missed recent voluntary OTA’s that did attend today were Trevor Pryce (who ran down field on the kick off team) and Kelly Gregg.  This is purely a guess on my part but Pryce’s efforts might be part of some extra conditioning.  He looks a bit thicker around the mid section than he did at this time last year.
Mike Johnson had his troops focused in on precision routes running skinny posts, drags and comeback routes.  He praised Yamon Figurs for a nicely run comeback, digging in and bursting quickly out of his break.  “That’s the way it’s done!”  Johnson liked it so much he asked Figurs to do it again to show the entire unit.
Save for one sequence during the two minute drill late in practice, Kyle Boller was sharp today while leading the first unit.  For the most part his fastball had zip and it was on target.  Troy Smith was up and down, looking very impressive on one throw and then far off the mark on the next.  Cullen Finnerty made some nice touch passes in tight quarters.  More on the QB’s a bit later.

Crossing route; Ivy visibly upset (Smith)
Bryant gets behind Oglesby but Finnerty pass is underthrown; deflected by Oglesby
Fly pattern is thrown behind Williams, aka Gumby; adjusts from inside shoulder to outside shoulder; makes fingertip catch and gets feet down before going OOB (Smith)
Precise out route delivered perfectly by Finnerty
Figurs blows by Prude makes the catch deep down the right sideline; Figurs nonchalants footwork and steps out of bounds; Neuheisel chastises Figures saying, "This is not K State." (Smith)
Bryant beats Oglesby on post; poorly thrown ball by Smith blows up play
Darling runs by Martin; Smith badly overthrows pass

When the horn sounded ending the one on one drills, the full squad gathered on the field furthest from the facility to engage in 11 on 11 situational plays.  Chris Foerster shepherded the offense to meet up with Rick Neuheisel to pick a starting line of scrimmage for red zone action.  Foerster suggested starting at the 22 and asked Neuheisel for his preference.  Neuheisel deferred by asking, “What do you think Head Coach Rexy?”
Rex Ryan stood in for Brian Billick as acting Head Coach and picked the 25 yard line.  And while that might suggest that Ryan wanted to give his defense an advantage, some of the defenders after practice playfully accused Rex of stacking the deck against the defense. 
Here’s how the action unfolded in the situational red zone plays:

Boller to Clayton, 5 yds
Pruitt run, loss 2 yds
Very physical on LOS; coaches tame things down
Boller to Williams                   
Smith sacked at LOS
Smith to Bryant incomplete
Oglesby on coverage
Smith passes into empty end zone, incomplete
Blown assignment by WR/QB
Ross 1 yard run
Finnerty to Willis, inc. in end zone
Screen pass Finnerty to M. Smith
Pruitt run, no gain
Finnerty to C. Moore left front corner of end zone; intercepted by Oglesby
Moore fell after the break on this timing route leading to int. for defensive score

After the red zone plays Frank Gansz’ units took the field and today they focused in on building a wedge in the kick return game.  Matt Stover, Sam Koch and James Wilhoit (UDFA Tennessee) took turns kicking off. After initially kicking off from the 30 (where Stover and Koch each kicked it to the 7), Stover moved the ball to the 40 for this exercise.  Wilhoit hit one kick high and 5 yards deep into the end zone (the 5 under normal conditions). 
The return team looked fairly accomplished given this very early juncture in the season.  B.J. Sams did a nice job of following his blocks and picking and weaving his way along.  Yamon Figurs has a suddenness and a burst that could be electrifying if Figurs proves that he can catch the ball cleanly and hang on to it after a hit.  Today he was cleaner than he has been when catching the ball.
The barrels were brought on to the field signaling the end of special teams’ practice and the start of 7 on 7 drills.  Here’s how it unfolded:

Boller to Williams, 7 yards
Strong throw
Boller to Wilcox, right hash, 20 yds
Leaping catch by Wilcox snaring back half of the ball in traffic; Neuheisel: "Way to go Danny!"
Smith to Bryant, incomplete
Smith rolls right fires to TE Marcus Freeman
Drops catchable ball
Finnerty to Ballantyne left sideline, incomplete
Almost and acrobatic diving catch by Ballantyne inspiring very vocal props from Mike Johnson
Finnerty to Willis left side line, 15 yards
Nice touch pass in between defenders; Willis tightropes sideline

In an interview that we did with Rick Neuheisel on June 3, the offensive coordinator spoke highly of Kyle Boller.  One of the things that Neuheisel wants to correct with Boller is his tendency to predetermine his throws.  That popped up again today and Boller knew it.  He dumped off a pass too early to a flaring RB and then Boller was a bit demonstrative while correcting himself.  Neuheisel corrected Boller as well on the play saying, “Don’t try to talk yourself into it.”
The full team assembled again to engage in more 11 on 11.  The self-scolding and the coaching of Neuheisel seemed to work for Boller.  Here’s what happened in the sequence of 11 on 11:

Boller to Williams, 15 yards
Boller to Heap, 25 yards
Excellent play by Boller who steps up in the pocket, nearly throws deep to a streaking receiver but sees Heap on a right to left crossing route and delivers a great touch pass for a nice gain.
Boller’s hard count provides for free play as Bannan jumps offsides
Nice run right by Ross
Smith sacked
Smith bails outside the box and throws it away
Smith to Figurs, incomplete
Smith reads the hot receiver but Figurs still runs route called in huddle even after Smith points to him pre-snap.
Finnerty dumps off to Pruitt, loss of 3
Great read by the tackler Landry

After the unstructured set of 11 on 11 plays ended, Rex Ryan set the clock at 1:30, put the ball on the offense’s 35 yard line and gave them one timeout and a first and ten.  Here’s what went down:

Boller to Williams incomplete
Boller to Clayton on slant, 5 yards
Pass thrown behind Clayton who makes nice catch (1:16)
Pass nearly intercepted by Winborne; Rex Ryan calls pass interference
Boller sacked by Landry
Boller to Wilcox, 9 yards
Boller to Daniels, incomplete
Boller to Darling, 38 yards
Oglesby chastised by teammates for allowing Darling to get behind him (0:05)
Boller to Wilcox

Other observations: Antwan Barnes is a handful when told to go and get the quarterback.  His head fakes on offensive linemen are a bit reminiscent of the in your face offensive style of LaBron James when he commits to playing at the rim.  At Barnes’ rim is a quarterback waiting to be sacked…LB coach Jeff Fitzgerald is really working hard with a willing pupil on pass coverage drops — namely Jarret Johnson…After talking to a couple members of special teams, there is an opinion shared that the unit will improve upon its overall No. 10 ranking from 2006.  The team’s depth should be able to feed Gansz’ crew and that should result in more wins in the battle for field position…David Pittman attended practice as an observer only…Rick Neuheisel has taken to calling Demetrius Williams "Gumby" for his ability to change direction and adjust without losing speed.

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of and His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts "The Fanimal" also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi


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