The atmosphere was extremely somber when the Baltimore Ravens launched their training camp last month as starting cornerback Domonique Foxworth was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.
The calamity began before the Ravens had even unpacked their bags at the team hotel with the grim news that promising rookie outside linebacker Sergio Kindle had fractured his skull days before camp when he fell down two flights of stairs in Texas.
As the Ravens leave Westminster today following a final walkthrough practice that’s closed to reporters and fans, the mood around the team has been boosted significantly.
Despite an injury-riddled offensive line whose health keeps taking hits while the secondary gets healthier, the Ravens regard their latest stint at McDaniel College as another successful experience.
Touted as a Super Bowl contender, the Ravens enjoyed a big audience this month. In their 15th consecutive year in Westminster, the Ravens set a new camp attendance record with an estimated total of 112,051. That topped the 2001 camp total of 111,492 following a Super Bowl championship season.
“It’s just been tremendous,” said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who repeatedly praised fans, McDaniel College, the team hotel and the catered food. “Our guys have worked really hard, and it’s a grind. Hopefully we’re the best football team we can be coming out of this training camp, but we still have a lot of work left to do.”
However, injuries dominated the conversation throughout camp as offensive tackle Jared Gaither battled a strained back and back spasms with safety Ed Reed and cornerback Lardarius Webb also sidelined.
Gaither and offensive linemen Oniel Cousins and David Hale were all carted off the field.
With the exception of Foxworth, though, the Ravens escaped serious injuries.
“It’s been like any other camp,” wide receiver Derrick Mason said. “I don’t think it was more physical than any other camp that we’ve had. We’ve had a rash of injuries, more than we’ve had at any other camp, at key positions. As far as camp being harder than it was last year or the year before, no.
“It’s the same. Obviously, camp’s going to be hard. If you come in with the mindset that you’re going to work hard, you’ll get the most out of camp.”
Breaking camp always seems to rejuvenate a football team.
Their bags are packed. Their luxury cars and SUVs are gassed up, and the players can’t wait to return to their homes.
“It goes by faster than everybody thinks, but it feels good to head back home,” cornerback Chris Carr said. “You know that the season is coming pretty soon. You want to come together as a team and get ready to go. It feels good to go sleep in your own bed.”
The Ravens leave camp still waiting for someone to establish himself in the three-man competition at inside linebacker.
The job is up for grabs after Jameel McClain faltered against the Carolina Panthers with Dannell Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden making their move.
The team is also closely monitoring the kicking battle between Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff. Both have had their moments. Both have also raised eyebrows with inconsistent accuracy at times.
Offensively, newcomer wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth have been as advertised as they’ve displayed speed and skill.
Quarterback Joe Flacco has shown off more compact throwing mechanics under the tutelage of new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn. And new backup Marc Bulger is more than qualified to step in if Flacco gets hurt.
Rookie tight end Ed Dickson has demonstrated that he can emerge as a potentially impactful contributor behind Todd Heap.
Defensively, Tom Zbikowski has all but officially seized the free safety position as the stand-in with Reed out indefinitely. It’s not even close between Zbikowski and former Pro Bowl safety Ken Hamlin.
Young pass rushers Paul Kruger and Antwan Barnes have made major strides.
And rookie nose guard Terrence “Mount” Cody has had a solid camp after the 6-foot-4, 349-pounder flunked his conditioning test twice to open camp.
Overall, the team seems to be improving.
“If you’re a competitor, you want to get better and you always think you can do more,” Carr said. “Hopefully, we have the mentality that we have to keep accomplishing more. You don’t know how good the Jets are going to be. It’s a whole new season. You’ve got to be ready for whatever.”
The Ravens will shift their practices Monday to their $35 million training complex in Owings Mills. Those workouts are closed to the general public.
“Going back to Owings Mills is going to be wonderful,” offensive tackle Michael Oher said. “It’s going to be fun. We’re still going to be in full-throttle camp mode and get ready for the regular season.
The amenities are a major upgrade when the Ravens return to their team headquarters.
The training complex is regarded as one of the top facilities in the league.
“Next week, we’ll be right into training camp again,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll still be in camp as far as we’re concerned. It’ll just be at our facility. It’s an easy transition to go back to our place. They’ll be in their environment. Our facility is beautiful.
“Our guys will be excited. You go to camp, you go back to your place and you’re kind of revived again. You’re kind of energized because it’s such a good place to train.”