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WESTMINSTER — Bruising fullback Lorenzo Neal can’t wait to dole out some punishment, taking out his frustrations on any linebackers that cross his path.
The Baltimore Ravens’ new lead blocker is hauling a figurative object on his shoulders that rivals his thick neck.
Ignored for months during free agency after being cut by the San Diego Chargers in February, the four-time Pro Bowl selection is eager to prove that he still has his trademark hitting ability after being signed to a one-year contract.
"I’m going to play with a chip on my shoulder," Neal, 37, said Wednesday after his first practice. "You get angry when you’ve been at the top of your game, when you’re rated the No. 1 fullback and then free agency comes and I kind of felt like Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer. Because of my age, I got left out of the game.
"Teams discriminate against you because of your age. That was the toughest part of sitting out, knowing you’re still in great shape, knowing you can still run, knowing you’re still ready to compete. Those people out there that doubted me, I’m back and I’m coming.â€
Neal chose the Ravens over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions largely because Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome called prior to the team’s preseason opener in New England and promised him a job.
"Anytime a guy does that and says that, that’s integrity," Neal said. "I could run around and try to get into a bidding war, but you should stand up for what’s right and do what you believe."
At 5-foot-11, 255 pounds, Neal packs a lot of power into his frame as a stocky former wrestler who plays with a low center of gravity. He smashed into several of his new teammates twice per year during his stints with the Tennessee Titans and Cincinnati Bengals.
"The thing about him is that the players all know him," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "They all respect him. All of our linebackers have been hit by him. Kelly Gregg has been hit by him. He threw off Kelly Gregg’s face mask a few years ago. Kelly still has the face mask in his den."
Neal played for Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron in San Diego for four seasons, operating as star runner LaDainian Tomlinson’s personal bodyguard.
For 11 consecutive seasons, Neal has blocked for a 1,000-yard rusher. Now, he’ll block for Willis McGahee, who’s sidelined following minor knee surgery, with 260-pound fullback Le’Ron McClain doubling as a heavy-duty tailback.
"He’s been in the system, which helps, but he gives us another physical guy," Cameron said. "He gives us some flexibility at running back with Willis being dinged up.â€
Neal was assigned a No. 42 jersey as his old No. 41 nu mber is being worn by cornerback Frank Walker.
"I’ll probably have to spend some money to get my old number back," Neal said.
After 15 NFL seasons, Neal has no illusions about what his primary assignment will be: creating a path for the featured back.
"I talked to Cam several times, he knows I’m going to be physical and do what I do best and that’s hit guys in the mouth," Neal said. "I’m just here to be the battering ram that I can be. When you say Baltimore Ravens, you know defense. I was brought here to bring a physical attitude to the offense."
SHORTHANDED: Cornerback Chris McAlister could return to practice next week, according to Harbaugh.
Only three cornerbacks were healthy enough to practice as Walker, Ronnie Prude and Corey Ivy took every snap.
"He’s got a real good chance to come back next week," Harbaugh said. "He wants to come back right now. We’re kind of holding him back and we want to make sure it’s where it needs to be."
With cornerbacks Samari Rolle (knee), Fabian Washington (neck spasms), Derrick Martin (head) and David Pittman (leg) sidelined, wide receiver Mark Clayton had to play nickel back.
"We’re ready for an emergency," Harbaugh said.
Martin hopes to practice today.
"It was just a bump on my head," he said. "I’ll be fine."
Added Harbaugh: "Those guys are all close to coming back. They’ve got little tweaks and nicks, so you’re not going to make a change.â€
INJURY REPORT: Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained medial collateral ligament), linebacker Gary Stills (knee), wide receiver Patrick Carter (dislocated left shoulder) and tight end Aaron Walker (left knee) practiced on a limited basis.
"I’m trying to knock off that rust," Ngata said. "I’m just being careful with my knee until I trust it all the way. I don’t want to hurt it again.â€
Not practicing: linebackers Dan Cody (right foot), Tavares Gooden (hip) and Robert McCune (leg), offensive tackles Adam Terry (sprained left ankle) and Jared Gaither (sprained right ankle), tight ends Todd Heap (right calf) and Daniel Wilcox (offseason toe surgery), wide receiver Demetrius Williams (left Achilles’ tendon), McGahee (left knee surgery), defensive tackle Kelly Talavou (shoulder sprain) and nose guard Kelly Gregg (left knee surgery).
QUICK HITS: Wide receiver Yamon Figurs returned to camp after being excused to attend the birth of his child. … Rookie kicker Piotr Czech hit all five tries, converting field goals from 23, 34, 42, 48 and 52 yards. … Linebacker Prescott Burgess (broken wrist) and running back P.J. Daniels (separated shoulder) cleared waivers and were officially placed on injured reserve. … Ivy cursed an official after he was flagged for pass interference. â€¦ The first-string offensive line was comprised of Chad Slaughter and Mike Kracalik at left and right tackle with Jason Brown at center, Ben Grubbs at left guard and Marshal Yanda at right guard.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.