That journey began with a rapid trip out of town. "You get tired of seeing these ugly guys," defensive end Adalius Thomas said. "Camp is not that bad, but you want to get home to your family. "The cops know we're breaking camp, so I'm pretty sure they'll be sitting out there. I'm just going to do the speed limit and cruise on home."
It was primarily an uninterrupted, productive time for evaluation, although camp began with contract holdouts by first-round draft picks Kyle Boller and Terrell Suggs. Once Boller reported, the competition with incumbent Chris Redman commenced. No winner or leader has been declared as the Ravens prepare to play the Washington Redskins this weekend. Injuries have sidelined several starters and ended the seasons of tight end Trent Smith and receiver Javin Hunter. Not all of the medical news was negative, though. Perennial All-Pro linebacker Ray Lewis hasn't experienced any flare-ups of the shoulder injury that required surgery and kept him out for the majority of last season.
Bruising running back Jamal Lewis is two years removed from his torn anterior cruciate ligament. His conditioning and ability to cut appear to rival his rookie form. "I thought it was a very good, solid camp," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "I think we made a lot of improvement. I think we coalesced as a team in certain areas. We certainly have a ways to go."
Quarterback battle: Among the unresolved questions as the Ravens return to their training complex in Owings Mills today: Who will ultimately start under center Sept. 7 against the Pittsburgh Steelers and for the remainder of the season? Redman has been solid, albeit unspectacular in starting two preseason games. In two quarters, he hasn't received as many opportunities as Boller to throw the ball deep. Redman hasn't had any trouble with his surgically-repaired back. His movement in the pocket and throwing motion look better, but he hasn't completed a pass over 19 yards. Boller has demonstrated arm strength and elusiveness along with committing the usual rookie mistakes.
It has been rumored widely throughout the league that Boller will start at least one of the remaining two preseason contests in order for the coaches to evaluate him fairly. "Obviously, I would be lying if I said I wouldn't be a little bit nervous, but I think after that first snap I would just be out there playing football," Boller said. "I think as I grow I will be able to really take the offense to the next level." Offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said the identity of the quarterback doesn't matter to him. "If I'm looking back, that means the quarterback is getting hit," Mulitalo said. "Whoever's back there, that's who we're going to block for. It's not too big a deal for us."
Defense shining: The Ravens have shunned comparisons of this defense to the dominant group that headlined their Super Bowl team. Nevertheless, this looks to be a gifted, aggressive unit by any standard. Besides Lewis, the Ravens feature Pro Bowl outside linebacker Peter Boulware, strong safety Ed Reed, cornerback Chris McAlister and an active, undersized defensive line. Plus, defensive coordinator Mike Nolan is counting heavily on linebackers Ed Hartwell, Terrell Suggs and Cornell Brown along with new cornerback Corey Fuller and free safety Gary Baxter. The Ravens rank first in preseason total defense and run defense, tying for fifth against the pass. Throughout camp, the defense has disrupted the offense's rhythm. "This is one of the fastest defenses I've ever played on," Lewis said. "That's where it all starts."
Catching on: Billick is still seeking overall improvement from his receiving corps. Last season, an inexperienced unit contributed to the Ravens finishing 27th in the league in passing offense. However, veteran Frank Sanders' injury (dislocated toes) has kept him out since the Bills game. Fellow newcomer Marcus Robinson has only one reception and has been prone to penalties and dropped passes. Meanwhile, Ron Johnson, Randy Hymes and Travis Taylor have had their moments. Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap is back after missing most of camp with back spasms. Baltimore is averaging 208.5 passing yards a game and ranks 15th in total offense through two preseason games. "We're better," Billick said. "The consistency is my biggest concern. So, we've got the talent there, but can they prove to be more reliable?"
Injuries: At various times, the Ravens' injury list has represented nearly a fourth of the entire roster. Now, the majority of the players are beginning to heal. However, center Mike Flynn (knee), offensive tackle Orlando Brown (knee) and punter Dave Zastudil (hamstring) haven't played yet in a preseason game. Plus, capable reserve inside linebacker Bernardo Harris (broken leg) is expected to be out for the next few months. Injuries to cornerbacks Alvin Porter (groin) and Tom Knight (hamstring) have clouded the picture at nickel back. "We're starting to get some people back," Billick said. "It's a good time to break camp in that regard." Competitions As the Ravens closed camp, there are still a lot of positions left to contest besides quarterback, including:
- Adalius Thomas and Marques Douglas vying for right defensive end. BULLET
- Thomas is also a contender at linebacker opposite Boulware along with Suggs and Brown.
- Orlando Brown's missed practice time after a three-year hiatus from football has prevented him from wresting right tackle away from Ethan Brooks thus far.
- Playing time and roster spots behind Reed and Baxter are being contested by Will Demps, Anthony Mitchell, Chad Williams and rookie Gerome Sapp.
- Hymes and Johnson are looking for playing time behind Taylor, Sanders and Robinson.
- J.R. Jenkins and Derrick Frost are competing to become the Ravens' kickoff specialist. Regardless of who wins these battles, it's much more difficult to earn a roster spot on this football team than it was a year ago. "Last year, was an anomaly in that regard," Billick said. "This year, it's competitive. It's real easy for them to get into a thought of, 'I made it last year as a rookie, how tough can this be?' Well, some of them are about to find out how tough it is."
Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.