Ravens' practice halted by brawl

OWINGS MILLS -- Uppercuts, haymakers, headlocks, head-slaps, cursing and consequences defined the temperamental Baltimore Ravens' minicamp practice. It wasn't a Vince McMahon creation. It was a case of warring factions: offense versus defense.

A series of melees Wednesday eventually completely eroded Ravens coach Brian Billick's tolerance for the unscripted, extracurricular activity, so he halted practice early. Billick ordered the entire football team to run ‘gassers,' a demanding regimen of sideline-to-sideline sprints rarely seen in the NFL.

"Since you don't want to practice and you don't want to think, you're going to run until I get [expletive] tired of seeing you run," Billick bellowed. "Get your [butts] on the sideline!"

As promised, Billick kept blowing his whistle as the players ran at least eight sprints. Several hefty linemen were left bent over and gasping for air.

"If you can fight, you can run," receiver Derrick Mason told his teammates while out in front of the pack of runners. "You've got to watch each other's back."

Center Jason Brown represented the offense's one-man gang, engaging in a series of fights with middle linebacker Mike Smith during the non-contact practice session.

Brown and Smith traded the first punches after Smith led with his hands to Brown's face mask during a full-team drill.

Nose guard Kelly Gregg tried to break up the skirmish, but eventually joined in and struck Brown with a series of blows.

Defensive end Jarrett Johnson slapped Brown in the helmet while the offensive lineman was tied up with Smith. Then, Johnson locked Brown up in a headlock and began raining punches on the fallen blocker.

During the ensuing play -- or was it Round III? -- Brown and Smith locked up once again. Other defenders joined the fight and a helmetless Brown was laying at the bottom of a pile of bodies before Billick stepped in.

None of the combatants, including Brown, commented on the incident when approached by reporters.

The brawling was observed by several visiting radio affiliate representatives, who took in the scene prior to enjoying an outdoor luncheon of crab cakes and strawberry shortcake.

"Sometimes, you fight your brother more than your worst enemy," offensive guard Edwin Mulitalo said. "When you don't have the pads on, sometimes different people are at a different speed and that's what happens.

"I'm sure there's going to be more [fights]. The key is to keep it under control and get better. Hopefully, it's a little family scuffle and we get closer from this."

Once he grew tired of watching the players run, Billick huddled the team together and immediately referenced the Ravens' epic meltdown last season against the Detroit Lions.

In a disturbing breakdown of discipline, the Ravens committed a franchise-record 21 penalties -- one shy of the NFL record -- in a 35-17 loss as two players were ejected. Four players were subsequently fined a combined total of $40,000 by the league office.

During that game, Terrell Suggs argued face-to-face with referee Mike Carey. While attempting to fight a Lions tight end, Ed Reed wound up bumping into an official.

Chris McAlister threw the football at a receiver to taunt him after an interception. Mason flung the football at a wall in frustration. And defensive tackle Maake Kemoeatu flashed an obscene gesture to the Ford Field crowd.

Billick emphasized the consequences of the misbehavior in Detroit as a teaching point Wednesday following the scraps and sprints.

"Coach is a wonderful teacher, he used it as something to learn from for the oldest guys to the youngest guys," said running back Mike Anderson, who signed with Baltimore this spring after several years with the Denver Broncos. "The punishment today is we run gassers. In a game, the punishment on the reality side is that could have cost us a game.

"For the guys involved -- depending on how severe it is -- you could get suspended, which costs the team and could cost you in the pocket."

Veterans like Anderson, 32, consider their energy to be a precious commodity. They'd much rather expend it running two-minute drills than running as a punitive measure.

"I'm getting too old for that," Anderson said. "I can't be doing that running up and down. Let's save that for the practice time and running the plays, not just wasted energy running because of what took place. Hopefully, that's over with."

NOTES: Quarterback Steve McNair's second practice with the Ravens was much sharper than his first. He connected with Derrick Mason on a long pass for a touchdown during team drills, lobbing the football over his former Tennessee teammate's outside shoulder. McNair was much more accurate and less hesitant. ... McAlister (toe) sat out of practice as a precautionary measure. … Defensive end Trevor Pryce and Reed didn't attend the voluntary workout after participating Tuesday. …. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, and linebackers Adalius Thomas and Suggs have been absent all week. … Linebacker Ray Lewis (hamstring), center Mike Flynn (knee), wide receiver Mark Clayton (hamstring), fullback Alan Ricard and wide receiver Clarence Moore (hernia) didn't practice. ... Thursday, the team will conclude its final minicamp of the offseason.

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

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