OWINGS MILLS — His hearing has been permanently damaged in his left ear, so much that hand signals are required to help Sergio Kindle sort out some of the defensive calls.
It took almost a full year for the Baltimore Ravens’ outside linebacker to regain his normal equilibrium after fracturing his skull last July when he tumbled down two flights of stairs in the middle of the night.
Nearly a year of rehabilitation later, there was the former University of Texas star pass rusher Saturday colliding with offensive tackles without hesitation.
During a special-teams drill as the Ravens conducted their first full-contact practice, Kindle passed a test.
He got bashed into right in the head, but got up and shrugged it off.
"No issues, no concerns, no pain or anything like that," Kindle told the Ravens after practice. "It all felt good to me."
Operating behind starting outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, Kindle earned some praise from coach John Harbaugh for his progress.
And the coaching staff seems to have no limitations on Kindle.
"I didn’t see any problem at all, I think he is OK," Harbaugh said. "Obviously, we’ll see. He will get in the training room and they will check him out a little bit. He made it through the whole practice and never wavered, never seemed to have an issue, and he was banging."
Kindle said that he was warned by neurological specialists of the potential consequences.
"Prior to me being cleared, I went through a lot of testing and whatnot just so the doctors could see and give me feedback for what to look for," said Kindle, who has passed baseline tests for several doctors and signed a waiver to be allowed to play again. "Based on what they told me, everything was good. They gave me precautions on what could happen if I was to make contact in a certain way, but I know all about it now.
"If it happens, maybe it was supposed to. I’m not looking for it to happen. I’m not worried. I’m just going to go out there and play like I’m supposed to."
If there is any fear or concerns weighing on his mind, then Kindle hasn’t revealed them.
"I don’t see a reason to play football if you’re fearful," Kindle said. "That’s not what it’s about. One thing was adrenaline, another thing is to go out there and play like nothing ever happened. That’s how you’ve got to do it because going out there and being hesitant or nervous can lead to you not playing well or it can lead to an injury."
Kindle said he has learned from this experience, including off-field issues at Texas that included a driving under the influence incident, crashing his car into an apartment building while texting on his cell phone and a DWI conviction in Maryland after his accident. He received no jail time after spending five days voluntarily in an alcohol treatment center.
"I know the organization knows I’m a good guy, a good person, a good teammate," Kindle said Friday. "I feel that mistakes are made by everybody; mine just happened to be detrimental to where I’m at with the Ravens and the organization, putting a bad light on the organization. But that’s in the past now, and I’m doing everything necessary to get that out of my mind, literally. Now it’s just football."
How bad is the hearing loss in his left ear?
"It’s bad, I can’t put a number on how bad," he said. "It’s not good, though. I can hear things. I can’t make out what’s being said most of the time. .. I’ve learned to adjust my hearing with my right ear. With football, you’ve got hand signals. So, I’ve got to learn them and then I’ll be fine."
Ideally, the Ravens would utilize Kindle as a designated pass rusher on third downs operating opposite Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.
Pass coverage seems to be an issue for him anyway, and the 6-foot-3, 250-pounder is fast, strong and tough. And the Ravens could use some help after generating a franchise-worst 27 sacks last season.
"That would be a big plus," Harbaugh said. "If he can rush the passer like he did at Texas, that’ s the idea. I think you look at Suggs’ first year, not that I want to put pressure on him, if we can focus on the pass rush part primarily and then see what else he can do, that would be our plan right now."
Kindle’s colleagues are just happy to see him get another chance.
"He’s a young kid that has a future, and now he can really go and pursue what he wants to pursue," middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "To see him out there running around and to see the smile on his face, just to be back on the football field, there’s just nothing more rewarding than being around that right now."
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata recalled watching Kindle being unable to practice last season.
"You felt bad for the kid because you could tell he wanted to be out there so bad," Ngata said. "It’s great to see him out there and that he’s able to be in the helmet and jersey, trying to help us win some games."
Now, Kindle is thrilled to finally be a part of the Ravens on the field after being drafted in the second round last year.
"I had my feelings about coming out for the first time in a year," Kindle said. "I was expecting for it to be a great feeling. But when you haven’t done football in so long … when you do football stuff with your helmet on, it’s bad. I had to get my legs back under me. I’m starting to feel better with every play."
CODY TO START: Now that Kelly Gregg has signed a one-year contract with the Kansas City Chiefs, it’s time for Terrence "Mount" Cody to assume the starting job at nose guard.
The former Alabama consensus All-American is unchallenged now for the position.
"That’s the plan, we need him to," Harbaugh said. "That’s why he is in there. He’s the starting nose guard and we expect there to be no drop-off. We have had a tremendous amount of production from Kelly Gregg over the years, and Terrence Cody has to play at least as well as that. That’s the plan. That’s his responsibility, but I’m sure he can do it."
The 6-foot-4, 350-pounder has shed at least 20 pounds since last season. He appears to be quicker and have better stamina now.
A year ago, Cody had knee problems and had arthroscopic surgery on his lateral meniscus. He didn’t contribute much until the playoffs when he separated Chiefs star running back Jamaal Charles from the football with a bear-hug tackle.
"He has just grown a little bit more," Ngata said. "He had some experience last year towards the end of the season and was getting on fire. He’s starting out a lot faster than he did last year."
BACK ON THE FIELD: Suggs practiced after being passing his physical and conditioning test and being activated from the non-football injury list.
Free safety Ed Reed returned to practice after dealing with a family issue.
"I didn’t see any issues of Suggs at all," Harbaugh said. "He looked fine. He looked 100 percent. He looked good."
ROSTER MOVES: The Ravens signed restricted free agent linebacker Jameel McClain ($1.9 million), offensive tackle Oniel Cousins ($1.2 million), linebacker Tavares Gooden ($1.2 million) and safeties Tom Zbikowski ($1.2 million) and Haruki Nakamura ($1.2 million).
And they withdrew their qualifying offers to wide receiver Marcus Smith and running back Jalen Parmele, signing them to minimum deals of $685,000. It’s a total savings of $1 million against the salary cap. Every dollar counts.
The Ravens cut defensive tackle Lamar Divens and running back Curtis Steele due to failed physicals. Divens could possibly return, though.
The Ravens withdrew their qualifying right of first refusal offer for defensive tackle Kelly Talavou, revoking their rights to him and making him an unrestricted free agent. Talavou missed the entire season last year due to a knee injury.
The Ravens also signed the following exclusive-rights free agents: linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, offensive guard Bryan Mattison, cornerback Cary Williams and long snapper Morgan Cox.
Rookie offensive tackle Eric Vanden Heuval quit the team after struggling with the heat.
SIDELINED: Zbikowski was placed on the non-football illness list to start camp. It’s believed that he’s getting over some kind of skin condition.
Jameel McClain was placed on the non-football injury list.
And Cox was placed on the physically unable to perform list after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament late last season against the Cleveland Browns.
VOCAL LEADER: Quarterback Joe Flacco had a friendly exchange of banter with Lewis during practice.
Flacco seems to be coming out of his shell.
"You guys probably don’t realize it, but Joe has been doing that," Harbaugh said. "He’s always going back and forth with those guys. Maybe he has filled a little bit of a void that way. Joe and Ray, maybe they will be the spokesmen for the smack talking during practice."
FREE AGENCY UPDATE: The Ravens still have interest in Houston Texans free agent fullback Vonta Leach and San Diego Chargers free agent wide receiver Malcom Floyd
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times