Notebook: Stover recalls Upshaw's legacy

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover didn't always agree with the late NFL Players Association executive director Gene Upshaw, but he definitely respected the controversial union leader. In the wake of Upshaw's sudden death Thursday morning following a short battle with pancreatic cancer, Stover reflected on the Hall of Fame offensive guard's legacy.

"He had a tenacity," Stover said of Upshaw, a former Oakland Raiders star. "He had what I call a courage to deal with some hard issues and some hard times in the NFL. He was somebody who made hard decisions, sometimes very unpopular."

In April, Stover e-mailed a plan to fellow player representatives to have a new union leader in place by March 2009. After the e-mail leaked publicly, Stover said that he wasn't trying to oust Upshaw and merely wanted to be sure there was a plan of succession in place.

Upshaw responded sharply at the time, saying: "Matt Stover has no clue. Whoever is pulling his chain is doing a disservice to the union."

Upshaw went on to reference looming labor negotiations with the owners when the current collective bargaining agreement expires, saying he would never depart his elected post until a new deal was struck.

"As you know, there's been a lot of opposition to Gene, but he led like he felt the union needed to be led and you can't fault a man for that," Stover said. "There's been a lot of disagreement with him, but there have been so many great things that he's done for our union."

NFLPA veteran general counsel Richard Berthelsen was quickly named interim director Thursday. Former NFL players Troy Vincent, Trace Armstrong and Robert Smith are among the candidates to succeed Upshaw permanently.

"I think that is very wise," Stover said of Berthelsen's appointment.

Upshaw had drawn heavy criticism for ignoring the plight of struggling retired players and their relatively meager medical care and pension benefits and for reportedly being too cozy with NFL management, including former commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

Upshaw's death at age 63 at his family's home in Lake Tahoe, Calif., took the entire league by surprise.

"At this point, it's a shock to all of us," Stover said. "It's something where we as a union and as players are going to take some time to grieve. I'm hoping that I can go to the funeral and pay my respects to him and his family."

SOUND EFFECTS: Practicing in their indoor facility Thursday, the Ravens had taped crowd noise piped in to simulate the loud conditions of the St. Louis Rams' Edward Jones Dome.

Former coach Brian Billick wasn't a proponent of practicing with extra sound effects because he thought it wore on the players' mental state.

"It's better than going out there Saturday and getting the crowd noise and being shocked with it," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We had a few issues that we improved on."

Of course, the noise didn't include the colorful language typical of a raucous NFL crowd.

"It still helps a lot," linebacker Antwan Barnes said. "There are times when a play can't be heard when it's real loud, so this is helpful."

TALKING TACKLE: The Ravens are scheduled to meet with the agent for free agent offensive tackle Fred Miller tonight in St. Louis.

Miller, 35, was cut by the Chicago Bears as a salary-cap casualty during the offseason and prefers to re-sign with Chicago. The Houston Texans are another possible destination.

"Fred is going to make a decision on Saturday," said Harold Lewis, Miller's agent. "We've been talking to five teams."

INJURY REPORT: Cornerback Chris McAlister (right knee), defensive tackle Kelly Talavou (dislocated shoulder), nose guard Kelly Gregg (left knee), running back Willis McGahee (left knee), wide receiver Demetrius Williams (left Achilles' tendon), offensive tackle Jared Gaither (sprained right ankle) and cornerback Derrick Martin (right shoulder) didn't practice.

Harbaugh was noncommittal when asked if McAlister would play against the Rams or if he's more likely to play next week against the Atlanta Falcons.

He expressed confidence that cornerback Samari Rolle, who has been practicing after injuring his left leg over a week ago, will play Saturday.

The team is being careful with tight end Todd Heap as he recovers from a right calf injury and may not play him until the season opener. Harbaugh referenced injuries that have plagued Heap in the past.

"He's had that hamstring for a long, long time along with the ankle," Harbaugh said. "So, we're being very cautious with that right now. Our stance with Todd is that if he's 100 percent, we're going to have him out on the field. He could play right now, I think, but let's not push him unnecessarily."

Harbaugh reiterated that the team expects Gregg, who underwent arthroscopic surgery midway through training camp, to be ready for the first game.

Offensive tackle Adam Terry (sprained left ankle) practiced all week without incident and is expected to start against the Rams.

QUICK HITS: The Ravens have been having trouble with the defensive helmet communication system, allowing a touchdown against the Minnesota Vikings when middle linebacker Ray Lewis didn't get the call. "It's a big concern," Harbaugh said. "They need to be able to hear the radios. Is it us operating it? Is it the signal not coming through? What is it exactly? We're studying that right now and we want to make sure we have it right, because when they don't get the call, then we're not on the same page. It's been spotty in practice, too." ... Harbaugh declined to say whether a strong performance by quarterback Troy Smith in St. Louis would assure him of the starting job. ... Safety Jim Leonhard will start his third consecutive game with starter Ed Reed still not cleared for contact due to a left shoulder injury that involves nerve issues. ... Former Ravens center Mike Flynn signed with the New England Patriots. ... Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller hasn't commented since Harbaugh announced that Smith was starting against the Rams. He wasn't in the locker room during the time that it's open to reporters.

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

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