BALTIMORE -Steve Bisciotti approached coach John Harbaugh shortly into the Baltimore Ravens’ practice Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, voicing his suggestion that the team make it an annual tradition of holding one practice downtown.
It was the Ravens’ first non-scrimmage practice at their stadium since the Ted Marchibroda era begin in 1996, their inaugural season.
An enthusiastic crowd of 17,851 took in the practice session.
"Steve came out on the field there when we were doing one of our drills and he basically said, ‘This is a tradition now, we’re doing it,’ because it was so good," Harbaugh said. "You felt it out there. It’s great for our team to get out there on the field, but it’s so good for the fans. You felt like there was a lot of fans that you knew you hadn’t seen in Westminster.
"So that was really neat. The other thing was getting used to the stadium, just throwing passes on this turf with our crowd with the background you have here. I’m thinking maybe we should do more of this because it was such a good day. I think we got a lot out of it."
Fans filled out the lower bowl of the stadium, and many were rewarded with autographs as players stayed afterward to sign for about a half-hour.
For the players, it was a chance to change up their routine from their usual camp days at McDaniel College in Westminster.
Admission was free and parking was only five bucks.
"I think it was great for us to get a little change of scenery, get in the stadium and I think it was a great gesture," center Matt Birk said. "To open it up for the public for free and give anybody who wants a chance to come into the stadium, it was a lot of fun as far as training camp practices go."
Veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said playing in front of a larger crowd was a positive experience.
"Regardless of whether we’re in Westminster, here or in the backyard playing, we’re trying to get better," Mason said. "Although it’s nice being out in Westminster, it’s kind of good to break up the monotony and kind of get a new environment for at least a day."
Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice said he enjoyed the interaction with the fans.
He was one of the last players to get back to the locker room after signing lots of autographs.
"These fans don’t get to see us all the time," Rice said. "It’s something they look forward to, something free of admission. A lot of them don’t make it to the games because ticket prices are high. With the way the economy is going, it’s nice for them to get out there. They watch us on television, but ain’t nothing like the real thing."
The Ravens installed new field turf this offseason, and this was the first time the players got to test out the new surface.
The turf felt hot on their cleats. Specifically, the small particles of rubber silica get extremely hot in the Maryland sun.
"It’s a cool, fast track, but it’s hot out there and my feet were burning," fullback Le’Ron McClain said. "It’s real soft. I liked the other turf better."
Rice said he was able to make his cuts faster than usual, but had to adjust for all the time he has spent at McDaniel over the past few weeks.
"Any turf is fast, but this feels a little bit faster," Rice said. "I had to catch myself one time when I was running and I felt like I was tripping because my feet were moving faster under me. My feet were getting so hot, too.
Mason bruised his left knee and said he could tell this surface was softer.
Team officials said this spring that the turf will take some time to break in.
"It’s soft," Mason said. "I don’t know if that’s good or bad. Last year, it was firmer. Some guys like a firm surface and some guys like a soft surface. We’ll get the feel of it in the preseason and they’ll make whatever adjustments they need to."
One aspect of the stadium that drew extremely high marks were the new video boards.
Larger than the previous video screens, the new equipment features a high-definition picture and includes a split-screen mode.
"They were sweet," Harbaugh said. "They looked really good, caught myself looking up there every now and then. The good thing was the split screen so I could stand at one drill and then look at the other drill without ever having to turn around. It was great."