Ravens wrapping up minicamp

OWINGS MILLS -- There was an altogether different look about the Baltimore Ravens heading into today's final minicamp practice, and it started at the top. While Ravens coach Brian Billick attended the high school graduation of his youngest daughter, Keegan, Wednesday morning, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan ran practice in his absence.

And Billick wasn't the only notable absentee from a voluntary minicamp that concludes this morning at the Ravens' training complex. A dozen players, including the majority of the starting offensive backfield and the first-string secondary, began an early vacation. The entire team is scheduled to officially report for training camp July 29 in Westminster with practice beginning the next morning at McDaniel College.

Quarterback Steve McNair, running backs Willis McGahee and Mike Anderson, safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden and receivers Derrick Mason and Damien Linson weren't at practice.

"You look into that too much," said Ryan, downplaying any disappointment at the lowest practice attendance of the offseason. "We know where our players are. This is a voluntary camp.

"Quite honestly, Brian knows where everybody is and the reason why everybody is where they are. We don't look down on the people not here."

With so many star players not attending practice as Ryan and offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel filled the leadership void, the practice atmosphere had a last week of school vibe. That didn't appear to stop players from concentrating on their business, though.

"You can't fall into that senioritis," offensive guard Jason Brown said. "We're trying to stay focused because we know training camp is coming up, and you can't afford to take two steps back. You have to maintain that focus on the last day of school, and for the months heading into training camp."

Added second-year wide receiver Demetrius Williams, who has been a standout throughout the minicamps: "The preparation doesn't stop. Camp is going to come and it's going to go fast, so you can't stop preparing here."

For cornerback Evan Oglesby, who had been picked on throughout the minicamps by veteran receivers, it was time to achieve a measure of revenge.

During red-zone drills, Oglesby intercepted rookie quarterback Cullen Finnerty's sideline pass and scooted the length of the field for a touchdown. Despite a sore heel, Oglesby high-stepped into the end zone with nickel back Corey Ivy running interference for him.

For Ryan, the architect of the NFL's top-ranked defense who nearly landed the San Diego Chargers' head coaching job during the offseason, it was a chance to see what it feels like to be in charge.

When asked if Billick had anything to worry about, Ryan joked: "I didn't want to say anything, but the guys here liked the changes."

Ryan made it a point to visit with all of the different positional groups. His one-day promotion offered a reminder to the team that despite signing a two-year contract extension with Baltimore this spring that Ryan could eventually leave the organization.

"I think Rex looked real comfortable," said linebacker Bart Scott, who continued his perfect minicamp attendance. "We want to hold onto him, but, realistically, we don't know how much longer we can."

Ryan definitely put his own imprint on practice, especially during some situational work toward the end of practice.

"I don't know who enjoyed practice more, our players knowing that we're one practice closer to the finish, or Rex being the de facto head coach," Neuheisel said. "He started our clock drive at the end and said, ‘All right, you've got eight seconds left, no timeouts and you're on the minus-3, which I thought was really fair for our offense. Once a defender, always a defender."

With a laugh, Scott had a differing opinion on Ryan's approach.

"You know what, I think he put us in a worse situation and gave the offense all the breaks to make it harder on us," he said. "Let Billick get back so we can get a break."

NOTES: Offensive line coach Chris Foerster reiterated that second-year lineman Chris Chester will enter training camp as the starting right guard, but will face competition from incumbent Keydrick Vincent and first-round draft pick Ben Grubbs.

Reserve cornerback David Pittman remains out with a strained hamstring, but said he expects to be fully recovered by training camp.

Linebacker Dan Cody (hyperextended knee) didn't practice and is unlikely to know until July if he'll need surgery to repair a loose piece of cartilage. If the injury requires surgery, he's slated for four months of rehabilitation.

Linebacker Mike Smith remains out following shoulder surgery. Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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