Ravens linebacker is a veteran of combat

WESTMINSTER -- The bursts of ammunition fire, the explosions of bombs, the smoke and the extreme danger of a sand-strewn battlefield are no longer Tony Fein's daily reality.

Fein was a recon scout in the Army, an infantry man who was traditionally the first one to check out potential areas to attack or avoid before reporting back his findings to his commander.

He was the eyes, ears and first line of defense for his unit.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Fein's existence was defined by the mortal danger of combat. And he was entrusted with the grave importance of being responsible for his fellow soldiers' lives.

Now, the Iraq veteran is a 27-year-old undrafted rookie linebacker trying to make the Baltimore Ravens' roster.

"Being in the military really was a life-changing experience," Fein said. "It makes you grow up fast. It teaches you a lot about teamwork and doing your job.

"It's kind of similar to football. Everyone has to do their exact job. It's the same thi ng in the military. The Army is the ultimate team, and that falls right in line with football."

The aggressive mentality and the rare awareness of playing linebacker come naturally to Fein, but the opportunity to step onto an NFL practice field certainly didn't.

His road to the NFL has been an arduous, winding path filled with twists and turns.

Fein enlisted in the Army at age 19 after graduating from high school in Port Orchard, Wash. He served in the Persian Gulf primarily as a Delta scout before being honorably discharged after a three-year enlistment.

His goal was to earn some money to attend college after a short stint as a roofer.

In Iraq, Fein witnessed destruction as well as hungry people without the necessities most take for granted like electricity, food and running water.

"I thought the military would allow me to serve my country and see the world," Fein said. "It's been tough, but I wouldn't trade it for anything else. I love what the experience did for me. "It means a lot to me. It really puts things in perspective. You take nothing for granted. It's part of my life that I'm very proud of."

After his Army stint, Fein attended Scottsdale Community College (Ariz.), and emerged as a junior-college All-American selection. Ranked se cond nationally at his position, Fein chose Ole Miss over Michigan State.

The former high school quarterback finished second on the team in tackles as a junior, but was benched for a short period. Then, Fein was nearly booted off the team by new Rebels coach Houston Nutt before eventually winning over the coaching staff with his work ethic.

It was Fein who recorded a pivotal tackle in the Rebels' upset victory over then top-ranked Florida prior to a Cotton Bowl win over Texas Tech last season.

Fein also won the Pat Tillman award, which is presented to a college athlete who has fought on a battlefield like the late Arizona Cardinals safety who was accidentally killed by friendly fire in Afghanistan.

However, Fein went undrafted after not being invited to the NFL scouting combine.

At Ole Miss' campus Pro Day, Fein opened some eyes when he bench pressed 225 pounds 29 times, ran the 40-yard dash in 4.65 seconds and registered a vertical leap of 37 1/2 inches and a 10-1 broad jump.

"I think my Pro Day helped me to get my foot in the door here," Fein said. "Physically, I know I can compete at this level, but it's all about the mental game. I'm doing good, but I'm a little behind some of the other guys."

Fein was the only one from a group of 10 tryout players to be signed by the Ravens in June. Now, he faces an uphill climb to make the roster.

Tough and physical, he has to harness his aggressiveness by honing his understanding of the game and instincts.

"We got him late in the offseason, so he was behind mentally," linebackers coach Vic Fangio said. "He's been behind mentally compared to the other guys because he hasn't had as many reps.

"We've got him playing Mike and Will, and he's doing a good job of picking up the system. I think as he gets more comfortable in his assignments, he'll do even better. He's a very tough kid."

With heavily tattooed arms, the ink tells Fein's story.

One has the words, "One life, one love, one shot," surrounding a picture of a football. Another has the saying, "Until I'm the best, until I know I'm the best, then and only then can I become civil again."

"They're just mottos that I live by," Fein said. "They're all meaningful to me."

Very few of his teammates are aware of Fein's military experience except for offensive tackle Michael Oher and fullback Jason Cook, his former Ole Miss teammates and fellow Baltimore rookies.

"No one has really asked me to relive the Army stuff," he said. "I'm just glad to be here." The rigors of training camp are a grind, but Fein views it all as a prime opportunity. There's nowhere else he would rather be than using his body as a battering ram on the practice fields at McDaniel College.

For Fein, playing in the NFL is yet another battle to be won.

"Football is a game, an important game," Fein said. "The military is life and death, but there are parallels. You work hard, you sweat, you get dirty. I have never forgotten that mentality because that's what got me here.

"Being in the military let me know how important football was in my life. I want to make this time count, I want to make it last."

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

Clayton to miss at least half the preseason schedule

By Aaron Wilson

WESTMINSTER -- Baltimore Ravens starting wide receiver Mark Clayton will be out for two to three preseason games due to a strained left hamstring, according to coach John Harbaugh.

The former first-round draft pick from Oklahoma is dealing with "some significant bleeding" in the hamstring, per Harbaugh.

Clayton injured his hamstring Sunday during team drills while running a pass pattern on the wet turf at McDaniel College and was carted off the field. It's another blow for a receiving corps that has drawn scrutiny throughout the offseason.

"It's going to be a few preseason games, we're not going to be in any hurry to bring him back," Harbaugh said. "He has some significant bleeding in there, so we're going to be very safe with that. He's gotten plenty of work in the offseason. Of course, you would like to have him obviously, but we have plenty of receivers to look at as well. So, we're not going to be in a rush."

The Ravens are aiming toward having Clayton back well in advance of their Sept. 13 regular-season opener against the Kansas City Chiefs.

"Oh, yeah, he'll be 100 percent way before then," Harbaugh said.

There has been speculation that Clayton might be out for a longer period, but that appears to be overstating the severity of the injury.

Clayton has indicated that he won't be out any longer than a couple of weeks and is confident that he'll return in time to participate in some of the preseason games. Clayton has a history of problems with this hamstring, which has continually plagued him since being drafted by the Ravens four years ago.

"Realistically, I don't know," Clayton said Tuesday. "A couple of week s, I don't know. Just as it goes. .. It's sensitive. We know right now it is preseason and we know how important it is. "I'm taking it day by day. At the same time, to not be able to do anything, especially as a receiver, to not be able to run full speed and show speed, it limits you, and will limit our offense."

Clayton who's heading into the final year of his contract and is due a $2 million base salary this season, caught 41 passes for 695 yards and three touchdowns last season. He averaged 17 yards per catch to lead the team.

With Clayton unavailable, the Ravens will likely plug in Demetrius Williams as the starter opposite two-time Pro Bowl selection Derrick Mason.

It could also lead to increased playing time for Justin Harper, who has been impressive in training camp so far and caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from John Beck on Thursday.

"It's too early to tell," Harbaugh said of Harper on Wednesday. "He needs to make those catches. All the little technique things that [receivers coach] Jim Hostler works on so hard and catching the ball, to be a pure receiver, that's the criteria. Can you catch the ball? Especially in a critical situation."

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

Notebook: Grubbs, Gaither sidelined

Rolle remains on physically unable to perform list

By Aaron Wilson

WESTMINSTER -- The Baltimore Ravens' offensive line is shorthanded again, at least on a temporary basis, with the entire left side dealing with injuries.

Left offensive tackle Jared Gaither suffered a left arm injury that forced him out of practice Thursday morning and afternoon, but isn't regarded as serious .

And left offensive guard Ben Grubbs is expected to be out for the next few days due to an ankle problem after undergoing offseason ankle surgery.

"Ben has some ankle tightness, and he just needs about three days of rehab," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We're looking at it right now, but we're just going to get him out and just rehab the ankles and give him a chance to get the swelling down a little bit."

With those two starters sidelined, first-round pick Michael Oher shifted from his right tackle assignment to the left side and Marshal Yanda took Oher's place at right tackle.

And Chris Chester filled in for Grubbs at left guard with David Hale lining up at right guard next to six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk.

The Ravens are in need of some depth following offensive tackle Adam Terry being placed on injured reserve this week due to a knee injury that will require microfracture surge ry, according to team officials.

INJURY UPDATE: Wide receiver Demetrius Williams returned to practice after missing the morning session with a minor concussion.

"Demetrius landed on his head, and they held him out for the concussion issue," Harbaugh said. "They have to pass those tests."

Also not practicing: wide receivers Mark Clayton (left hamstring), Marcus Smith (leg), Biren Ealy (groin) and Thomas White (hamstring), linebackers Terrell Suggs (left heel) and Tavares Gooden (undisclosed), defensive tackles Justin Bannan and Lamar Divens (hip flexor) and cornerback Samari Rolle (neck). Bannan was given the day off.

Rolle, who remains on the physically unable to perform list, increased his activity level. He engaged in some backpedaling and running on his own in a helmet and shorts.

The former Pro Bowl cornerback doesn't appear to be quite ready to return to practice, in Harbaugh's estimation.

"It's so hard to predict, but Samari says a day or two more," Harbaugh said. "It's going to be up to the trainer, but there's nothing major in there. It's just a matter of a strengthening process where he can move the head around and feel good about it. We'll keep him out of contact for a good stretch."

Cornerback Fabian Washington (right knee) seemed to aggravate his tendinitis condition during a drill, but eventually resumed practicing.

Defensive end Will Johnson (hamstring) returned to practice.

NO TWITTER BAN: Harbaugh indicated that he's not going to ban pl ayers from using Twitter or other social networking sites, but is cautioning them to be careful.

"I'm not a fan of it, I'm not involved with it at all," Harbaugh said. "We monitor it. We know exactly what our guys are Twittering and what everyone in the league is Twittering. We made it clear to them that it's public domain. When you get onto Twitter or Facebook, basically it's like having a microphone right there. That's how you've got to treat it.

"However you come across on Twitter, that's how you're going to come across to the public. Our mindset is not to ban Twitter. It's not to ban any medium. What we'd like to do is have our guys understand that there are kids out there and they're reading what you put on there just like you're talking to a camera, and treat it with respect."

QUICK HITS: Wide receiver Justin Harper's 80-yard touchdown catch on a perfect spiral from quarterback John Beck was the highlight of practice. Harper was unsuccessful, though, when he attempted to shoot the football basketball-style through the goalposts on his post-touchdown celebration, clanging it off the crossbar. "The John Beck pass to Harper, yeah, it was a great throw," Harbaugh said. "John had a bunch of nice throws. He had a few nice throws that weren't caught as well, so it was a good day for him." ... Harbaugh won't be here for today's afternoon practice while he attends Jim Johnson's memorial service in Philadelphia, and special teams coordinator and assistant head co ach Jerry Rosburg is in charge of practice. "Jerry knows what he's doing, it's not complicated," Harbaugh said. "Our guys will be fine. They'll be happy I'm not around." ... Harbaugh is testing his wits and, potentially, his health by covering kickoffs. "We had it all set up, [Tom] Zbikowski was going to block [Haruki] Nakamura, [Jim] Hostler was going to block [Prescott] Burgess right there on the inside and I was going to be wide open," said Harbaugh, who nearly recovered an onside kick. "And something broke down. I need to be honest with you, I got a little scared. I kind of had to cringe a little bit there."

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

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