When Lorenzo Neal was released by the San Diego Chargers in February, he thought it would be a short matter of time before another team came calling.
When he and the Chargers parted ways, Neal had just come back from his fourth trip to the Pro Bowl, fresh off blocking for his 11th consecutive 1,000-yard running back in LaDainian Tomlinson, who led the league with 15 rushing touchdowns and 1,474 yards on the ground.
But as the weeks turned into months, Neal grew frustrated.
Sure, the 16-year veteran had broken his right fibula in December 2007. But, didn't he return to gut out a gritty start in the AFC Championship game? Couldn't he still knock would-be tacklers back with the explosive force of a jackhammer?
"I'm going to play with a chip on my shoulder," Neal said after Wednesday's morning practice. "You get angry when you've been at the top of your game and you've been rated the No. 1 fullback and then free agency comes, and I felt a little bit like Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer because I got left out of the Reindeer Games.
"You're 37, so teams say 'OK, you're aged' and discriminate against you because of age and not because of what you can do. I think that was the toughest part of sitting out, knowing that you're still in great shape, knowing you still can run."
The Ravens obviously think Neal, 5-foot-11, 255 pounds, still has it. Baltimore was one of a few teams, including the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, that contacted Neal as training camps neared.
But, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome called him before the team's preseason opener in New England and promised to add him following the game.
Neal took Newsome at his word, which was the main reason he chose to sign a one-year contract with the Ravens.
"Anytime a guy does that and says that, that's encouraging," Neal explained. "Tampa called on Sunday and wanted me to come in and do a one-year deal with them. But once you've already committed to someone and once you've had that conversation - when you're that far and you've already been playing for a long time and you know you're in the latter part of your career - it's about standing up for what's right and doing what you believe in.
"This is a great organization. I think they're committed to wanting to win. I want to win, so that's what it's all about."
Another big reason for Neal's arrival in Charm City is the presence of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who coached Neal in San Diego from 2003-06. During that tenure, the Chargers finished in the top-10 in rushing offense every season, with Tomlinson racking up huge numbers behind Neal's road-grading.
Cameron openly pitched the Ravens to Neal, as the fullback will be on the fast track in learning a familiar offense.
And, the coaches hope Neal can be a veteran voice in the offensive meeting rooms for many of the young Ravens still trying to wrap their heads around Cameron's playbook.
"I talked to Cam several times," Neal admitted. "He knows I'm going to be physical and do what I do best, and that's hit guys in the mouth. That's what I was brought here to do. I know my job. I don't need to run the ball. I'm just here to hit guys and be the battering ram that I can be, and just be leadership.
"You have that on defense here. You have a lot of leaders and we have a lot of talented people on offense, but they just need a little leadership. These guys can be great. We know it's there on defense and we know we have a lot of athletes on offense."
Coming to a team that hasn't experienced an abundance of offensive success like the annually explosive Chargers' unit, Neal possesses the credentials to help Cameron change the mindset on his side of the ball.
"We're pretty young on offense, especially in this offense," Harbaugh said. "So here is a guy who can help teach the offense and maybe the personality of the offense, as well."
Donning a fresh purple No. 42 jersey - he's currently eyeing cornerback Frank Walker's No. 41, the number he's worn throughout his career - Neal can already see where he can be effective.
He may not have taken many snaps as the man teammates called "the new guy," but Neal took in a lot by simply mingling with players in the background of drills.
"When you say 'Baltimore Ravens,' you think defense," Neal said. "I was brought here to bring a physical attitude to the offense. We know offense entertains but defense wins games, and this defense won a lot of games.
"But our offense wants to score some points. We don't want to score just 10 points and have our defense hold some teams up. That's unfair. I think you'll see this offense score some points, and we'll surprise some people."
Here are some more news and observations from Wednesday's practices, the second of which was a special teams session:
- The Ravens missed many players from practice, as has recently been the case. Wideout Patrick Carter (shoulder), linebacker Gary Stills (knee), cornerback Fabian Washington (neck) and tight end Aaron Walker (knee) were all limited, mainly staying off to the side.
The rest of the injured list looks like this:
Cornerbacks Chris McAlister (knee), Samari Rolle (knee), Derrick Martin (undisclosed) and David Pittman (undisclosed); linebackers Dan Cody (foot), Tavares Gooden (hip) and Robert McCune (leg); offensive tackles Adam Terry (ankle) and Jared Gaither (ankle); tight ends Daniel Wilcox (foot) and Todd Heap (calf); receiver Demetrius Williams (leg); running back Willis McGahee (knee surgery); and defensive tackled Kelly Gregg (knee) and Kelly Talavou (shoulder).
Yamon Figurs was traveling back from the birth of his child during the full-team practice, but he returned for the afternoon session.
- With all the injuries, the Ravens had some fun experimenting with different positions. At one point, wideout Derrick Mason played quarterback during a skel drill in the red zone. With five receivers spread out, Mason still threw the ball in the dirt.
Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who returned from a sprained MCL, played a little middle linebacker, as did fellow tackle Justin Bannan. Wideout Mark Clayton even lined up as a defensive back.
- On the kicking front, rookie free agent Piotr Czech was successful on all his attempts, hitting from 23, 34, 42, 48 and just barely from 52 yards.
- The pass of the day goes to Kyle Boller, who hit rookie Marcus Smith in the back left corner of the end zone with a perfectly-placed pass that just fell over Smith's outside shoulder.
Smith was blanketed by cornerback Ronnie Prude, who was on an island because safety Dawan Landry had to come up and cover running back Allen Patrick split wide.
- The starting offensive line Wednesday was Chad Slaughter at left tackle, Ben Grubbs at left guard, Jason Brown at center, Marshal Yanda at right guard and Mike Kracalik at right tackle.