Ravens' rookies making an impression

OWINGS MILLS -- Demetrius Williams contorted his body, squirming into awkward positions to corral a few errant sideline passes from rookie quarterback Drew Olson. Leaping high into the air and stretching his hands toward the hash marks for a series of acrobatic catches, the rookie wide receiver from Oregon was intent on making a good first impression during his first official day on the job.

As the Baltimore Ravens launched a two-day rookie minicamp Saturday, Williams' inventory included a healthy chip on his shoulder. Initially projected as a second-round draft pick, the lanky California native endured a long wait in the draft when he lasted until the fourth round as the 111th overall selection.

"It's definitely a motivator," said Williams, who caught 50 passes for 950 yards and nine touchdowns last season to finish with 153 career receptions, 2,551 yards and 19 touchdowns. "You definitely want to go out there and prove to everybody that I'm definitely with a good club and there's a reason why they got me here. I want to prove to everybody else that you shouldn't have passed on me."

The primary goal of the camp is to get the rookies acclimated to the NFL, including learning the playbook and their way around the team's $35 million training complex. Avoiding sensory overload by keeping the details as simple as possible was a major point of emphasis.

"What we want to get out of it is simply them getting the routine," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "Where are they, where are the bathrooms, where's the chow hall, where's the field, who's in the training room, who's the guy with the goofy glasses and the too long shorts?"

It wasn't hard for the rookies to identify the bespectacled Billick, who owns a Super Bowl ring but presided over a 6-10 debacle last season. Nor was it lost on them that they were getting dressed in the same locker room usually inhabited by Ray Lewis and other football luminaries.

"It's a little overwhelming," said cornerback David Pittman, a third-round pick from Northwestern State (La.) who's slated to be the team's nickel back. "It lets you know you've really arrived."

Top draft pick Haloti Ngata was drenched in sweat after hustling through drills and firing out of his stance under the direction of defensive line coach Clarence Brooks. The 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle appeared to be in good condition and demonstrated agility and quickness.

"When you watch him moving around, that combination of size and athleticism, until you see it in the flesh it's hard to truly appreciate," Billick said of Ngata, who was assigned former nose guard Maake Kemoeatu's old No. 92 jersey.

There was extra individual attention for the defensive tackle from Oregon, and it wasn't only because of his first-round status. The Ravens have a small rookie class that includes 10 draft picks and only a dozen undrafted free agents, so Ngata was the only defensive lineman present except for undrafted rookie Nick Leaders.

"It was time to get in and fit in and get used to the tempo and the way the Ravens do practice," Ngata said. "I don't want people to feel like I'm the guy. I just want to fit in and do what I can to be part of the team."

As the 12th overall pick, the former Pac-10 Co-Defensive Player of the Year doesn't have to worry about his roster status.

It's an entirely different deal for long shots like Canadian linebacker Ricky Foley. The former meat farmer from Courtice, Ontario, was practicing on a try-out basis.

Because his high school didn't offer after school activities except for track and field, Foley didn't play organized football until enrolling at Canada's York College. When the meat farm was stricken with an outbreak of mad cow disease, Foley decided to try football as a vocation.

"It's a blessing for me to be here, so I can't complain at all," Foley said. "It's a crash course and I just hope to impress the coaches enough to get invited to training camp."

Because it's a strange environment for the rookies, the Ravens are cautious about drawing too much in the way of snapshot conclusions from this weekend.

However, Ngata, Williams, running back P. J. Daniels and Pittman immediately drew positive reviews.

"We do not want a good football player to leave this team because he was unfamiliar, didn't know what he was he doing, or was confused or hesitant. And that's easy to do, because they're unfamiliar, they're confused and they're hesitant," Billick said. "You don't want to miss on a good football player that way. You want to give them time to get comfortable. There's only so much evaluating going on right now."

NOTES: Center-guard Chris Chester, the team's second-round draft pick, didn't attend the camp because the political science major is graduating from Oklahoma this weekend. …The Ravens' undrafted rookie class includes: Olson (UCLA), wide receivers Rufus Skillern (San Jose State) and Tres Moses (Rutgers), fullback B.J. Dean (Florida State), running back Cory Ross (Nebraska), offensive guard Kyle Roper (Arkansas), offensive tackle Robin Meadow (Washington), cornerback Ronnie Prude (LSU), safeties Shannon James (Massachusetts) and Steve Paris (Iowa State), linebacker Jim Cottrell (New Mexico State) and Leaders (Iowa State). Olson, who will compete with Brian St. Pierre to be the third quarterback, was the only quarterback invited. "He's not going to get out of here thinking, 'Geez, I didn't get a chance to show what I can do,'" Billick said. "It's tough for a quarterback because it's the most to absorb." … Baltimore tried out former Oakland Raiders linebacker Tim Johnson, who was cut by the team during its 2001 training camp. Plus, the team worked out Foley, wide receiver Jason Barnes (Ball State), cornerback Tommy Brown (Nicholls State), long snapper Landon Schrage (Iowa State) and linebacker Justin London (UCLA).

Aaron Wilson writes Ravens Insider and the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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