No time to waste for Ravens' rookie class

OWINGS MILLS -- The rookies broke the offensive huddle with hesitation, not clapping in unison or hustling to the line of scrimmage. A wide receiver lined up a few steps offsides. And there was no communication between the skill players prior to an aborted play.

Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick had seen enough Sunday morning at the team's rookie minicamp.
"We don't know what we're doing," Billick barked. "Get back in the huddle."

As the Ravens completed their initial rookie orientation, Billick made several corrections. Plus, offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan threw in a few profanity-laced admonitions.

In a season where Baltimore has already penciled in several rookies for immediate contributions, there's little time to waste on mental busts.

"They will get into a comfort zone where they'll feel half-decent about themselves and then the vets will come in on Tuesday and they'll go right back to wondering which way is up and which way is down," Billick said. "If a guy shows an inability to take instruction or to not correct a mistake that's been corrected over and over again, that's a concern, but we're a long way from determining that on these guys. There's a lot to do."

The Ravens are likely to use more rookies in critical roles than any season since their 2002 campaign when they were forced to institute a youth movement because of a salary-cap upheaval.

Top draft pick Haloti Ngata is slated to start at defensive tackle.

Center-guard Chris Chester, the team's second-round draft pick, is expected to contend for a job on the interior offensive line.

Cornerback David Pittman was drafted specifically in the third round to replace Deion Sanders as the team's nickel back.

Demetrius Williams was handpicked in the fourth round to push disappointing third-year pros Clarence Moore and Devard Darling for the third wide receiver job.

"It's a little bit of pressure, but if you play with pressure, you're not going to perform," said Williams, who delivered acrobatic catches all weekend. "It's a great feeling to come in and get a chance to contribute. You feel like you're a part of the team and actually doing something."

Despite not having ideal speed, fifth-round pick Dawan Landry might need to start at safety opposite Ed Reed.
"Nothing's guaranteed to anybody and if you don't perform you won't be here," said Landry, who's known as a punishing hitter at 6-foot, 220 pounds. "Hopefully, I caught their eye by working hard and playing my game."

Running back P. J. Daniels, who began his Georgia Tech career as a walk-on, is likely to be the third-down back because of his ability to catch passes out of the backfield.

"He has a certain fluidity to him," Billick said. "He's done that before."

Meanwhile, 6-foot-6, 270-pound Quinn Sypniewski has been tabbed as the blocking tight end.

For Ngata and Williams, Sunday was the two former Oregon standouts' final practices until they arrive in Westminster for training camp.

Due to an NFL-NCAA agreement that mandates players may only attend one offseason minicamp until their respective colleges conduct graduation ceremonies, Ngata and Williams won't be allowed to attend any more minicamps. Oregon students are scheduled to graduate June 16 and June 17, and the Ravens' final minicamp concludes June 14.

The rule is designed to discourage NFL teams from asking rookies to drop out of school. However, most incoming rookies don't enroll for spring semester classes so they can concentrate on draft preparations and workouts.

"This really sucks for me because I'm not even going to school," said Ngata, who declared for the draft after his junior season. "Basically, this rule is kind of useless to me. I'm going to go back to Salt Lake City and work out. It feels pretty good that the coaches trust me that I'm smart enough to learn the playbook."

Like Ngata, Williams hasn't taken any classes since December. Like Ngata, Williams made a strong early impression this weekend.

"I've been concentrating on football this whole time, so it's kind of silly," Williams said. "Since I'm not going to be back until training camp, I'm trying to pick up as much as possible now and follow the training program they gave me. Yes, it will be difficult to miss all that time."

NOTES: Chester arrived in time for the final practice after catching a 6:30 a.m. flight into Baltimore. The second-round draft pick graduated from Oklahoma on Saturday with a degree in political science. "It was good to see my family, how excited they were and Katie Couric spoke at our graduation," said Chester, who looked athletic and strong during blocking drills. … Undrafted former Ball State wide receiver Jason Barnes, who was practicing on a try-out basis, injured his leg during the morning practice. … Former Iowa wide receiver Ed Hinkel, who had agreed in principle with Baltimore, failed his physical and wasn't signed.

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

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