OWINGS MILLS — The lobbed throw from Joe Flacco arrived too late, a mistimed spiral that never reached its target.
Instead of connecting with wide receiver Anquan Boldin along the sideline, the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback was intercepted by $50 million shutdown cornerback Lardarius Webb.
And Webb streaked in the other direction for the first unofficial touchdown of the season as the reigning AFC North champions opened training camp Thursday afternoon.
In sweltering weather conditions that nearly reached the century mark for temperature, the defense applied most of the heat as they intercepted several passes.
"This is a good start," coach John Harbaugh said. "Obviously, we’ve got the perfect weather for training camp. The guys did a great job. Our team is in shape. It was a fast-paced practice. Obviously, we have a lot of rough edges to grind of right now, but I’m real pleased for the first day.
"I thought the secondary was really sharp. Obviously, they made a lot of plays, a lot of plays in the red zone, a number of interceptions. The secondary, the whole defense, pass defense-wise, looked really good."
Flacco eventually exacted some revenge, beating Webb on a deep throw to newcomer wide receiver Jacoby Jones.
And wide receiver LaQuan Williams had the most acrobatic catch of the day, twisting his body and leaping into the air to secure a Flacco pass thrown slightly behind him.
Flacco passed for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and a dozen interceptions last season, almost leading the Ravens to a Super Bowl berth if not for a dropped pass in the end zone by former third wide receiver Lee Evans.
"It was fun, it was a good day," said Flacco, who’s in negotiations with the Ravens for a long-term deal as he enters the final year of his rookie contract. "Our receivers are probably dying right now and they would tell you the opposite. It was a hot one, and we got a lot of good work in."
Overall, though, it was a day where the defense made a bit of a statement.
Ranked third in the NFL in total defense a year ago, the Ravens’ defense played like they’re collectively determined to make up for the loss of NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs to a partially torn Achilles tendon.
Replacing Suggs’ 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles will be an arduous task.
The Ravens have installed Paul Kruger at Suggs’ rush outside linebacker spot with rookie second-round draft pick Courtney Upshaw assuming gritty veteran Jarret Johnson’s vacated strongside linebacker position.
"Everybody knows that the next man has to step up," inside linebacker Jameel McClain said. "Terrell Suggs is a big void to fill. Everybody knows that. Fortunately, we have some great young guys that are ready to go out there and put in a lot of work. We’ve got a lot of guys that are ready and understand what it takes to play on this defense. So when we lose one, everybody else steps up to a whole other level and that’s what everybody’s focused on."
The Ravens are banking on Kruger thriving as a full-time player after he recorded 5 1/2 sacks as a situational pass rusher last season.
Now, the former second-round draft pick from Utah is taking on a much larger role.
"Being an every-down guy, the responsibility that goes with that, you’ve got to understand the whole game plan," Harbaugh said. "You’ve got to know the defense, you’ve got to know the base package and all elements of the sub package.
"Before, he was more of a part-time player, just had to know part of the package. I don’t think he’ll have a problem with the run. He’s a very physical guy. The mental part of it, he’s worked hard at it. He looks good.”
Upshaw didn’t look lost in pass coverage and was aggressive in pursuit.
The 6-foot-2, 272-pounder is trying to get lighter after failing the Ravens’ conditioning test and briefly being placed on the non-football injury list before passing the timed running intervals on the second try.
Upshaw is the Ravens’ top draft pick from Alabama and was a consensus All-American for the Crimson Tide who registered 9 1/2 sacks last season.
"You do talk about expectations a little bit, but really they are just trying to swim right now, keep their head above water," Harbaugh said. "He is just trying to make sure he doesn’t lower the standard, because he is learning. It’s all new for him. The pace of play is new. The defense, obviously, the volume is new. So, I don’t think you have to talk about it too much. It’s pretty self-evident.”
Meanwhile, the offense is trying to upgrade its output after ranking 12th in scoring last season with a 23.6 average per contest.
Flacco took exception with the suggestion that the offense wasn’t doing enough to complement its defensive colleagues.
"As far as I’m concerned, we shouldn’t be holding back because of our defense," Flacco said. "That’s kind of bogus, if you ask me. If that’s what we are doing, then we have a problem. So, we won’t look at it any differently. We have to go out there and try to score points. That’s the biggest thing. I think we are getting better.
"We are getting more athletic and more skilled and we are doing a lot of things on the offensive side of the ball just in terms of personnel. When we get out here, we are working on them in terms of getting better and getting to that point where we can be an explosive offense and score a lot of points."
After reaching the AFC championship game in two of the past four seasons since Harbaugh’s arrival and making the playoffs each year and being the only NFL team to win at least one playoff game during that span, the Ravens have grown tired of nearly reaching the pinnacle.
"Get over the hump, get to the next level, that stuff is just a cliché," Harbaugh said. "Yeah, we’re starting from scratch. We’re going to build a keel to this ship. We’re going to sink the pilings deep. We’re going to make that rock solid foundation built on bedrock. Those are principles. That’s where it starts.
"So, we have to get back to that place. You want to talk about 22 seconds left in the AFC championship game, that’s fine. We have to get back to 22 seconds left in the AFC championship game first, and before that, we have to have a great preseason. What we’re really interested in is a really great practice tomorrow. That’s what’s important now. That’s what we need to take care of.”