BALTIMORE — Surrounded by an inquisitive group of budding football players, retired Baltimore Ravens offensive tackle Harry Swayne fielded questions ranging from what it felt like to play in the Super Bowl to academics, financial planning and whether it hurt to get run over by a big defensive end.
Swayne smiled at that last question and replied that it only hurt his pride before Ravens senior personnel assistant George Kokinis chimed in about a missed block hurting the fallen quarterback the most.
That remark triggered laughter Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium as the Ravens’ personnel department hosted their first youth football camp, which included executives and scouts providing instruction in football skills and life lessons for area middle school flag football teams.
For a day, football returned to Baltimore while the NFL lockout continues that has brought the league to a standstill.
“We have a little bit of a lull in our own work experience,” Ravens director of player personnel Eric DeCosta said. “To be out here working with kids is a great opportunity for us. Serving the community is probably one of the most important things we can do in our position.
“A big part of what we’re trying to do is to provide some life skills and guidance. If we can help out with some of those things with some of these young men and women, I think we’ve done a service to the community.”
Besides quizzing Swayne and a group of executives that included DeCosta, Kokinis, director of college scouting Joe Hortiz, assistant director of pro personnel Chad Alexander, vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty and scouts Joe Douglas and David Blackburn, 75 middle school students worked on everything from quarterback progressions and pass patterns to defensive pursuit and coverage drills.
The day concluded with organized flag football games. Plus, the flag football players were given a tour of the locker rooms and viewed the Ravens’ 2010 season highlight film.
“It’s fun, especially since we haven’t had any other athletes to interact with and we get a chance to give back to the community of Baltimore," said Swayne, who works for the Ravens in player development along with O.J. Brigance. “I think this is something that will happen annually. For the personnel department, this is the first time they’ve ever done anything like this.
“Nobody sees them or really hears about them, but they’re bridging a couple of gaps. They have unique perspectives. They know a lot. They study the game. They’re great people, too. In all my years being around the NFL, I don’t remember a personnel department wanting to give back to the community like this.”
It was suggested to DeCosta that he might be getting a preview of future draft prospects.
“We’ve been looking at these guys and girls pretty closely,” DeCosta quipped. "Actually, it’s just fun to be out here running around. We’ve got beautiful weather. Football is a great thing in our community, and to get them out here with our scouts is rewarding.”
As the labor dispute continues to unfold primarily through courtroom litigation, the Ravens’ scouts are remaining busy.
They’ve already begun evaluating next year’s draft class as well as preparing for NFL free agency whenever it begins.
“We’re working right now looking at rising juniors, prospective seniors on tape," DeCosta said. “We’re doing some free agency stuff. We’ll be ready when things rejoin and we get back to work. We’ll be ready to roll.”
There are roughly 400 potential undrafted rookie free agents still out there hoping to get jobs, but they’re currently stuck in limbo due to a lockout that prevents teams from signing or contacting players.
In the past, the Ravens have discovered several undrafted gems including linebacker Bart Scott, running back Priest Holmes and center Mike Flynn.
“They’re in a tough spot,” DeCosta said. “Fortunately this thing will end at some point. They’re a lot of good players still out there on the streets. When this thing ends and we’re able to get back to work, we’re going to hit that hard.”
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times.