Ravens ready to break camp

The atmosphere was extremely somber when the Baltimore Ravens launched their training camp last month as starting cornerback Domonique Foxworth was lost for the season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament.

The calamity began before the Ravens had even unpacked their bags at the team hotel with the grim news that promising rookie outside linebacker Sergio Kindle had fractured his skull days before camp when he fell down two flights of stairs in Texas.

As the Ravens leave Westminster today following a final walkthrough practice that's closed to reporters and fans, the mood around the team has been boosted significantly.

Despite an injury-riddled offensive line whose health keeps taking hits while the secondary gets healthier, the Ravens regard their latest stint at McDaniel College as another successful experience.

Touted as a Super Bowl contender, the Ravens enjoyed a big audience this month. In their 15th consecutive year in Westminster, the Ravens set a new camp attendance record with an estimated total of 112,051. That topped the 2001 camp total of 111,492 following a Super Bowl championship season.

"It's just been tremendous," said Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who repeatedly praised fans, McDaniel College, the team hotel and the catered food. "Our guys have worked really hard, and it's a grind. Hopefully we're the best football team we can be coming out of this training camp, but we still have a lot of work left to do." However, injuries dominated the conversation throughout camp as offensive tackle Jared Gaither battled a strained back and back spasms with safety Ed Reed and cornerback Lardarius Webb also sidelined.

Gaither and offensive linemen Oniel Cousins and David Hale were all carted off the field. With the exception of Foxworth, though, the Ravens escaped serious injuries. "It's been like any other camp," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "I don't think it was more physical than any other camp that we've had. We've had a rash of injuries, more than we've had at any other camp, at key positions. As far as camp being harder than it was last year or the year before, no.

"It's the same. Obviously, camp's going to be hard. If you come in with the mindset that you're going to work hard, you'll get the most out of camp."

Breaking camp always seems to rejuvenate a football team. Their bags are packed. Their luxury cars and SUVs are gassed up, and the players can't wait to return to their homes.

"It goes by faster than everybody thinks, but it feels good to head back home," cornerback Chris Carr said. "You know that the season is coming pretty soon. You want to come together as a team and get ready to go. It feels good to go sleep in your own bed."

The Ravens leave camp still waiting for someone to establish himself in the three-man competition at inside linebacker.

The job is up for grabs after Jameel McClain faltered against the Carolina Panthers with Dannell Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden making their move.

The team is also closely monitoring the kicking battle between Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff. Both have had their moments. Both have also raised eyebrows with inconsistent accuracy at times.

Offensively, newcomer wide receivers Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth have been as advertised as they've displayed speed and skill. Quarterback Joe Flacco has shown off more compact throwing mechanics under the tutelage of new quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn. And new backup Marc Bulger is more than qualified to step in if Flacco gets hurt.

Rookie tight end Ed Dickson has demonstrated that he can emerge as a potentially impactful contributor behind Todd Heap. Defensively, Tom Zbikowski has all but officially seized the free safety position as the stand-in with Reed out indefinitely. It's not even close between Zbikowski and former Pro Bowl safety Ken Hamlin.

Young pass rushers Paul Kruger and Antwan Barnes have made major strides.

And rookie nose guard Terrence "Mount" Cody has had a solid camp after the 6-foot-4, 349-pounder flunked his conditioning test twice to open camp. Overall, the team seems to be improving. "If you're a competitor, you want to get better and you always think you can do more," Carr said. "Hopefully, we have the mentality that we have to keep accomplishing more. You don't know how good the Jets are going to be. It's a whole new season. You've got to be ready for whatever." The Ravens will shift their practices Monday to their $35 million training complex in Owings Mills. Those workouts are closed to the general public.

"Going back to Owings Mills is going to be wonderful," offensive tackle Michael Oher said. "It's going to be fun. We're still going to be in full-throttle camp mode and get ready for the regular season.

The amenities are a major upgrade when the Ravens return to their team headquarters. The training complex is regarded as one of the top facilities in the league.

"Next week, we'll be right into training camp again," Harbaugh said. "We'll still be in camp as far as we're concerned. It'll just be at our facility. It's an easy transition to go back to our place. They'll be in their environment. Our facility is beautiful.

"Our guys will be excited. You go to camp, you go back to your place and you're kind of revived again. You're kind of energized because it's such a good place to train."

Ravens notebook: Secondary getting healthier Washington to start Saturday, Carr's leg improving By Aaron Wilson

The Baltimore Ravens' hard luck at cornerback is beginning to change. It's a lot less dire situation than when the Ravens began training camp with cornerback Domonique Foxworth suffering a season-ending knee injury.

Fabian Washington is slated to start against the Washington Redskins and play roughly a quarter Saturday night at FedEx Field after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last season. "Fabian's held up out here in all the live, full-speed drills," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "When you don't go full contact, it's full speed for a corner and the things that he does. And Fabian has had no problems with that. A game is different, so we'll be looking forward to that."

Washington emphasized that he's been gaining trust in the knee for the past few weeks. He got injured last November.

"I'm doing it all, I've been testing it out pretty hard," Washington said. "I feel confident about everything. I can't wait to get out there. It's been a long road back. To me, the whole thing is a relief to really be back. I might even be a little nervous when I get out there Saturday night."

Chris Carr is optimistic about his chances of increasing his playing time after being limited to a few snaps last week against the Carolina Panthers due to a left hamstring injury before being replaced by Cary Williams.

Carr has been limited in practice this week. "If I feel good enough to play a lot Saturday night, I will," Carr said. "I felt pretty good. The last couple days, I came out here and practice a little bit and did some conditioning and during my exercises, my hamstring felt just as good as my right one does. That was a good sign, so I felt pretty confident being able to do everything."

And Lardarius Webb is nearing the point where he'll be activated from the physically unable to perform list, according to Harbaugh. "He's very close, he's right there," Harbaugh said. "That's up to the doctors to make the decision about when he practices, but he's right there and I know he wants to practice." The Ravens would like to have Webb activated by the third preseason game Aug. 28 against the Washington Redskins.

Webb said earlier this week that he doesn't want to play during the preseason. He tore his anterior cruciate ligament last December against the Chicago Bears. Webb is training twice per day and appears fluid and strong during his running, cutting and jumping drills on the sidelines.

On the orders of team officials after speaking out days ago, Webb gave extremely short responses to questions about his knee.

"I'm just working on my confidence right now," he said. "It's coming along well. I was taught not to talk as much. I got in trouble for talking to y'all one time, and they said I said something. So, I have to keep everything short right now. So, that's why you're getting the short answers. "Hopefully, I can be back as soon as possible. We're being real and taking it easy on me. Everything is left up to coach Harbs. Any answers on when I'm going to come back, talk to John." UP AND DOWN: It's been a rough camp for rookie wide receiver David Reed.

He's been plagued by dropped passes. His best play was Wednesday when he executed a leaping touchdown catch over cornerback Chris Hawkins in the back of the end zone. Overall, though, it's been a disappointing time. "I talked to coach Cam [Cameron] and said, ‘I'm in a slump,'" Reed said. "He said, ‘In a slump, you never were.' I thought about that as practice went on, and it's true. I wasn't in a slump. I was just getting myself down. I'm my biggest critic, and I have to get out there." Reed dropped a bomb from Marc Bulger that hit him right in the hands.

On Thursday, he caught a touchdown from Bulger. The fifth-round draft pick from Utah has been spending a lot of time after practice catching passes on the JUGS machine.

"Just keep grinding and just get my confidence back and get my swagger back, I'm definitely getting better every day," said Reed, who caught 81 passes for 1,188 yards last season. "I'm my biggest enemy, my biggest critic. I don't drop too many passes. I'm getting it back. "I've got to perform. I've got to find a way to help this team out and make this roster whether it's all special teams or receiver." INJURY UPDATES: Wide receiver Mark Clayton didn't practice due to an ankle injury, but predicted he'll play Saturday.

"My ankle was a little sore," he said. "Just chill, take some mental reps. I'll play Saturday." Rookie tight end Ed Dickson didn't practice due to a groin injury, which was described as a hip injury by Harbaugh.

"It was actually my groin," said Dickson, adding that he'll definitely play Saturday. "It's all right. They just want to be cautious and make sure I'm ready to go. I'll be good. "It's a long season. They just don't want to have me out early, so they just take precaution. Coach Harbs told me, ‘Take it easy. If you're hurting, go ahead and that right.'"

Not practicing: offensive tackle Oniel Cousins (head injury), tight end Davon Drew (hamstring), center David Hale (bruised tailbone), offensive tackle Jared Gaither (strained back, back spasms), offensive tackle Stefan Rodgers (shoulder), safety Marcus Paschal (right quadriceps) and offensive guard Daniel Sanders (shoulder).

Cousins isn't expected to play Saturday due to a mild concussion, and Tony Moll has been taking work with the first-team offense. The following players returned to practice: center Matt Birk (neck), linebacker Prescott Burgess (migraine), Carr, and linebacker Tavares Gooden (neck).

Still on the physically unable to perform list: safety Ed Reed (hip), running back Matt Lawrence (knee), linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo (quadriceps) and Webb.

GETTING THE CALL: When his phone didn't ring and he remained out of work as NFL camps got underway after being cut by the Ravens this spring, undrafted rookie safety Brad Jones was about to give up on football and get a job. He was scheduled for a job interview this week with Procter & Gamble in Cincinnati before the Ravens signed him last weekend.

"I was going to just go to work," Jones said. "I was supposed to have that meeting. I told the guy I had to get back to Baltimore. He told me he understood and that they would love to have me at P&G one day."

Jones said he's beginning to get up to speed after being signed weeks into camp. "I was still studying my playbook just in case and my legs are starting to come back," Jones said. "I'm a little slugging some days. I'm pushing through." Jones said he has volunteered to play cross-train at cornerback, which he played in college at the University of Cincinnati. "I have the ability to play nickel," he said. "I've never taken a snap at corner here, but I wouldn't be a liability."

WHO'S STARTING?: Dannell Ellerbe and Jameel McClain both said they don't know who's starting at inside linebacker Saturday. "Those guys, they've been rotating and playing and competing all the way through camp, so this is a continuation of that," Harbaugh said. "I think the competition has been good, and they've all played well, so we'll just have to see how it shakes out."

QUICK HITS: Safety Ken Hamlin intercepted backup quarterback Marc Bulger and starter Joe Flacco. … Kicker Billy Cundiff had a tough day at practice, pushing one kick several yards wide left. He missed three of his five tries. Shayne Graham made four of his six kicks. … Orioles pitcher Jeremy Guthrie was at the morning practice, signing autographs for fans

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