First impressions

First of all, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick is absolutely right. It's virtually impossible to judge football players based on a few practices or reach lasting conclusions about their potential. Especially when they're confused rookies running around in shorts during non-contact drills with no veteran presence to serve as an accurate barometer. You can pick up a few clues, though.

With that caveat in mind, here's my skinny on the Ravens' rookie class following their initiation minicamp:

1. First-round draft pick Ben Grubbs is in pretty good shape, considering it's early May. A summer in the weight room and on the track should yield solid results. I think he'll be given every chance to beat out incumbent Keydrick Vincent at right guard. Judging from Grubbs' conditioning, athleticism and ability to absorb the playbook, he appears to be up to the task. I think he's as advertised, a pure guard who can move and hold his own as an anchor on the line of scrimmage.
2. Wide receiver/return specialist Yamon Figurs is seriously skinny and astoundingly fast. Although he's built like a twig, it's hard to teach his 4.29 speed. The guy can absolutely fly.

The question remains: Is he a legitimate receiver or just a return specialist drafted to push troubled, injured veteran B.J. Sams out of his job running back kicks and punts? I would say it's a stretch to think that Figurs isn't a major project at receiver.

He tends to catch the ball against his body too much, a bad habit, but he did make a few nice catches in heavy traffic that were thrown pretty hard by Troy Smith. Bottom line: He's here to return kicks and anything he does at receiver has to be considered a bonus.

3. Offensive lineman Marshal Yanda seems like a very hard worker, albeit a tad short at just under 6-foot-4 to play right tackle. They're going to give him a shot there and see how it goes. If you can play left tackle and right tackle and survive in the ultra-competitive Big Ten Conference, you've got a chance to be successsful in this league, too.

Yanda has quick feet, but doesn't have very long arms. He's very strong and, of course, he's a tough guy. The Ravens' scouting department loves his intangibles and he has the Kirk Ferentz seal of approval. He should push Adam Terry on the right side, but guard might be his best position long-term.

4. Outside linebacker Antwan Barnes (Florida International) might be even faster than departed All-Pro Adalius Thomas. He's going to need a lot of work learning to play in reverse and had some issues covering backs out of the backfield in terms of alignment and technique, but position coach Jeff FitzGerald got him coached up.

Barnes is the sleeper of this draft crop in my opinion with his 4.45 speed, strength (31 reps of 225 pounds) and mean streak. He should at least be a special-teams ace and could also blossom as a situational pass rusher. If there's a knock on him, he's kind of short at 6-foot-1, 240 pounds. By the way, Barnes is a very determined kid from a very tough Miami neighborhood.

5. Fullback LeRon McClain showed up looking leaner than his listed 260 pounds. He caught the ball well out of the backfield. He's very stocky and should be a lot for linebackers to deal with on isolation blocks.

6. Smith got off to a rocky start in his first practice with a lot of pressure on the Heisman winner, but he rebounded well during the afternoon session and the second day of minicamp. He came off as poised, confident and humble during several interviews and was in heavy demand from the media.

He even took it in stride when one television reporter asked him if he was worried about getting cut from the roster. Ouch! It's June. Kind of early to get cut from the team. I'll be surprised if he's not the third-string quarterbacks this year and that he might eventually get back his college No. 10 from Drew Olson, who's doing decently in NFL Europe.

7. A sidenote: Smith and Olson go way back. They know each other from an Elite 11 high school football camp many years ago. Smith is definitely 6-foot, a sturdy 225 pounds and his mechanics looked smooth. He needs to work on throwing to a spot, getting some more air under his passes and throwing with better touch.

I think he was pretty nervous and that caused some of his errant throws. The Ravens liked the way he picked up the offense and his willingness to learn and adapt to new surroundings. I'm somewhat skeptical about batted passes, but let's wait until Trevor Pryce and Terrell Suggs get to town to see how he does against a pass rush. At the very least, Smith should make the second half of those exhibition games watchable.

8. Prescott Burgess, the Ravens' final draft pick, is a hard-nosed inside linebacker from Michigan. I think special teams will be his calling card for now. He's definitely big enough to groom behind Bart Scott and Ray Lewis and it won't surprise me if he endangers the roster spots of Mike Smith and Dennis Haley if he continues to progress and learn the defense.

9. The undrafted free agents looked like a good group. Especially Penn State strong safety Donnie Johnson, Central Michigan receiver Damien Linson, Southeast Missouri State defensive end Edgar Jones, Mississippi State defensive tackle Andrew Powell and Northeastern tight end Kendrick Ballantyne.

10. Grand Valley State quarterback Cullen Finnerty performed well enough to be invited back to another minicamp as Baltimore faxed him a contract offer late Monday afternoon, according to his agent.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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