Ravens return to work, prepare for Cardinals

OWINGS MILLS - Minutes after the Baltimore Ravens' first practice in a week, Brian Billick remarked on returning to a football mode following an especially early bye. In an illustration of the Ravens' idle activity Sunday in comparison to their NFL counterparts, general manager Ozzie Newsome walked past Billick in a hallway and chimed in: "Dante Hall did it again."

While the Ravens were going through a brief walkthrough that focused primarily on conditioning, the Kansas City Chiefs' elusive return specialist returned a punt for a touchdown to defeat the Denver Broncos and remain undefeated.

A week ago, Hall scooted past the Ravens' kickoff team for the game-winning score in a 17-10 win as he set an NFL mark with his third consecutive game with a touchdown return.

"Thank God it wasn't to me again," said Billick, whose kickoff team was safe and sound Sunday as the Ravens got a head-start on preparations for next weekend's game against former Baltimore starting quarterback Jeff Blake and the woeful Arizona Cardinals.

The Cardinals (1-4) spent their Sunday getting pounded in a loss to the Dallas Cowboys in Emmitt Smith's return to Texas Stadium. The Ravens (2-2) spent the majority of their day getting players acclimated to the routine of practice again.

"I wanted them running, breaking a sweat, getting back in a football mentality on a day when they normally play football," Billick said. While most of the players scattered across the nation this week, the coaching staff and personnel department spent the time self-scouting, preparing for Arizona and doing advance work on the Cincinnati Bengals. Sunday signaled the end of the players' vacation. "We worked the cobwebs off," defensive end Adalius Thomas said, "and all the grub we ate this week."

"I disappeared," safety Ed Reed said. "I had to get my mind right, get my mojo back. Now, I'm ready to roll."

Cornerback Gary Baxter flew to his hometown of Tyler, Texas for his mother's home-cooking and to watch his high school football team play. "When I walked out on the field, it brought back memories and I got excited even though they didn't win the game," Baxter said. "It made me want to get back to work. It was too early to have a week off."

Meanwhile, Blake finished the season as the Ravens' starting quarterback. However, he declined an offer last winter to return as the starter because he wanted more money than Baltimore was willing to extend in its final contract proposal.

"It will be good to see Jeff again, but we're focused on the Arizona Cardinals as a group," said Billick, who met with Blake in West Palm Beach, Fla. before the veteran's exit.

Several players noted the irony of facing off with Blake in the Valley of the Sun, saying they expect to see a feisty competitor intent on proving something regardless of his new team's circumstances.

"We call him Willie Beamon for a reason," said Baxter, referring to the combative quarterback portrayed by Jamie Foxx in the movie 'Any Given Sunday.' "He used to bet us $500 that nobody could pick him off in training camp. "It's going to be fun because we're going to see everything that he's got and vice versa."

NOTES: Running back Musa Smith said his knee feels much better weeks after return to practice following arthroscopic surgery. "I don't know if they'll play me this game or not," the third-round draft pick from Georgia said. "I feel like I'm ready to go, but they don't tell me much."

Return specialist Lamont Brightful said he has completely recovered from a mild concussion that forced him out of the loss to Kansas City. Fullback and wedge-buster Harold Morrow worked out Sunday, but is still recovering from a cracked elbow.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.

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