Ravens break 'phenomenal' camp

WESTMINSTER -- As the Baltimore Ravens broke training camp Saturday morning, they departed McDaniel College with their traditional brand of boisterousness punctuated by a heavy dose of rookie hazing. The veterans dunked rookies Troy Smith, Prescott Burgess, Yamon Figurs and Matt Willis into tubs filled with ice water before taping them all together to the same goal post.

Then, they gave the youngsters a sticky shower of Gatorade, baby powder, whipped cream and strawberry syrup.

When Smith, a quarterback who won the Heisman Trophy last year at Ohio State, was lying in the cold tub with his arms taped to his side, middle linebacker Ray Lewis asked him to strike the Heisman pose.

"Camp is over and I'm very happy about that," special-teams ace Gary Stills said. "I'm ready to get the season underway and get things cranked up. You see how happy we are, taping the rookies up. Goodbye, Westminster , however you pronounce it."

The conclusion of camp was one of the noisiest episodes of the defending AFC North champions' 20-day training camp, which was, by all accounts, one of the quietest, most drama-free camps in franchise history.

There was no legal turmoil to overshadow football.

There were no significant injuries like when Jamal Lewis shredded his knee in 2001.

There was no extra media scrutiny like the HBO "Hard Knocks" mini-series that followed the team winning the Super Bowl.

Unlike a year ago, the Ravens didn't have to acclimate quarterback Steve McNair into their offense.

And there was no real controversy over who was starting at a key position as the Ravens head into their second preseason game tonight against the New York Giants.

"We've had a phenomenal camp," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "The best I've ever been a part of, but we've got to follow through. I told the players you can't fall into that trap with things going so well and a minimal amount of distractions and a great game Monday night.

"To not then follow up with another game at home with great focus and passion, I don't know that they won't. But there's a lot of conventional thinking that says that's a trap you could fall into. We want to make sure we don't do that."

New running back Willis McGahee is making a smooth transition since being acquired in a trade from the Buffalo Bills. He rushed for 20 yards on five carries in his debut last week in a 29-3 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles.

"We all know what Willis can do," receiver Mark Clayton said. "He's going to come through big-time and open this offense up for all of us."

Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden missed the entire camp with a lingering turf toe injury, but that wasn't an unexpected scenario. Ogden is expected to begin practicing toward the end of the preseason, possibly as soon as the end of next week.

Ogden's injury opened the door for rookie tackle Jared Gaither to gain valuable starting experience at left tackle as the 6-foot-9, 350-pound former University of Maryland standout drew several compliments for how he manhandled Pro Bowl pass rusher Terrell Suggs during blocking drills.

"There's no limit on how good Gaither can be," offensive guard Jason Brown said. "He has every tool you need to be a great lineman. He just needs to keep working hard."

Outside linebacker Dan Cody, who underwent arthroscopic knee surgery weeks prior to camp, remains out. Cody is expected to begin the season on the physically unable to perform list, meaning he will miss at least the first six weeks of the regular season. The second-round pick has been placed on injured reserve the past two seasons and could spend another year there if he's not healthy enough to be activated between the sixth and eighth week of the regular season.

Meanwhile, hard-hitting rookie linebacker Antwan Barnes has opened eyes with his speed as a situational pass rusher while dealing with a recurring high ankle sprain.

"He's very explosive off the edge," linebackers coach Jeff FitzGerald said. "He goes after the quarterback hard and fast every time."

There are still a few unresolved questions at the close of camp as the team returns to its $35 million headquarters in Owings Mills.

Will Chris Chester or first-round draft pick Ben Grubbs emerge as the new starting right guard?

Will new right tackle Adam Terry gain confidence in himself at a new position? Or will the Ravens move Gaither over to the right side to compete with Terry when Ogden returns?

Will Clarence Moore, Devard Darling or Yamon Figurs win the battle for the fourth receiver job?

Will Gerome Sapp or Jamaine Winborne represent enough depth behind starting safeties Ed Reed and Dawan Landry?

Could the Ravens opt to keep an extra running back on the roster because of Cory Ross' impressive showing?

Will outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, who had some issues with tackling and pass coverage against Philadelphia , be a capable replacement for All-Pro Adalius Thomas?

"I'll take some of those responsibilities, but Jarret is a tremendous athlete," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I think Rex Ryan will use the talent that maybe A.D. didn't possess and he'll highlight those things and put him in situations to make plays."

Before packing his bags, Billick tipped his hat to a dedicated fan base that endured the extreme heat in Carroll County to attend practice.

Team officials estimated a total camp attendance of nearly 100,000, including the 25,000 who attended the Ravens' scrimmage against the Washington Redskins.

"The response has been incredible," Billick said. "The fans have been incredibly upbeat, incredibly positive. I salute them for their passion."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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