When the Ravens signed offensive tackle Chad Slaughter on July 31, he hadn't played football for more than a year.
Laying concrete in his hometown of Dallas was the way Slaughter took up most of his time.
Now, as the Ravens head into their second preseason contest against the Minnesota Vikings, he is finally remembering what it means to be an NFL football player.
"There is no way you can reproduce the pulling and jerking that you do as an offensive lineman when you're at home," Slaughter said with a laugh. "I'm still getting in shape, my legs are just now starting to get up under me. I'm just remembering how the aches and pains feel. I thought I could forget about that."
With each practice, the Ravens hope he gets more of a feel for the game, as Slaughter is expected to make his second start at left tackle Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in place of injured linemen Jared Gaither (ankle) and Adam Terry (ankle).
Slaughter spent the last two days of training camp with the first string, opposite right tackle Mike Kracalik, to form the bookends of Baltimore's offensive line.
For Slaughter, the past two weeks have been a whirlwind, where reality was suspended in an effort to get caught up with life on the gridiron.
"I guess it's typical of how training camp goes," he explained. "The best way to go through it for me is to lose contact with the outside world. You have to buckle down and be ready for anything. Honestly, you lose track of days, but that's easier for me.
"I really don't want to know what's coming. I just try to be as prepared as I can."
At 6-foot-8, 340 pounds, Slaughter's physical attributes cannot be denied. But, with seven starts and 43 games of playing experience under his belt, it didn't take too long to remember his roots.
Seeing his first action in purple and black against the New England Patriots in the preseason opener, Slaughter was solid on the left side, not allowing a sack against a defense that rolled out many of its starters.
"I was a tad bit surprised, but deep inside I knew I still had it," the five-year veteran said. "It's kind of like riding a bicycle. You always remember how to do it as long as you keep working on the specific points of blocking."
While he freely admits that he has a long way to go to be comfortable with the offense and his ability, Slaughter continues to keep a positive outlook.
The Alcorn State product suffered a slight setback earlier this week when his foot was rolled up on, but he pushed through the minor injury.
"I got pinned under a pile, and it got a little swollen on me. But, that's football," Slaughter said. "You have to learn how to work through that."
Less than a month back playing football at the NFL level, Slaughter is still learning a lot along the way.
Here are some more notes and observations from Thursday's afternoon practice:
- The Ravens gave a rest to linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive tackle Trevor Pryce, cornerback Frank Walker and wideout Derrick Mason for the afternoon session, but welcomed back cornerbacks Derrick Martin and Fabian Washington, after the duo did not take the field in the morning.
- Kicker Matt Stover worked on the side field with a different partner other than specialists Matt Katula, Sam Koch or Piotr Czech.
McDaniel College freshman kicker Jake Nichols received an invitation to practice with Stover after the two met earlier in the day.
Stover offered his critique of Nichols' style as the former All-State kicker from Thomas Johnson High School booted field goals.
"He's a great coach," said a beaming Nichols, of Frederick, Md. "Obviously, he's been in the pros for a ton of years. He said that you have to go in soft. You can't go in wanting to kill it. Just use your momentum and square your shoulders."
- Rookie offensive linemen David Hale and Oniel Cousins got the only touch of hazing this year, as teammates Kracalik, Jason Brown and Chris Chester wrangled the young Ravens and taped their hands and feet together. Hale even had his bald head signed in permanent marker by the veteran pranksters.
- At the close of training camp, head coach John Harbaugh reminisced on his favorite part of his first stint at McDaniel College.
"We can say we come out here and we wouldn't rather be anywhere else, but it's not fun like going to an amusement park," Harbaugh said. "It's fun because you're around the guys, the camaraderie of it, the brotherhood of it and the team-building part of it.
"Maybe our guys don't even realize it, but when it's all said and done, and your football career is over, that's what you look back on and remember. Some of us just say, 'We don't want to give that up,' and just keep coaching."
AM Notes: Smith Takes Team-First Attitude
Saturday's preseason matchup against the Minnesota Vikings is probably the biggest in Troy Smith's professional career, but you wouldn't know it from talking to him.
Ever the cool, calm and collected quarterback, Smith isn't approaching his first start this year any differently than starting the Ravens' final two contests of 2007.
No different than playing in the BCS National Championship game during his Heisman Trophy-winning campaign at Ohio State.
No different than the practice reps he's taken in training camp with the first-, second- or third-string offense.
"I try to take everything as the same," Smith said after Thursday's morning session. "I try to treat every situation with the same kind of morale, just put your all into every situation. You don't want to put too much into one and say that one is more important than the next, because you never know.
"Even though it's preseason, sometimes it could be your last play. You never know."
But, the Ravens preseason home opener at M&T Bank Stadium could go a long way into the decision as to who will be under center when the regular season kicks off Sept. 7.
For Smith, it means a chance to fully take the reins of the offense as its unquestioned starter, not just as a fill-in, like when Steve McNair and Kyle Boller were sidelined with injuries in Weeks 16-17 last year.
In those games, Smith finished a combined 32-of-60 for 370 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions.
Head coach John Harbaugh would like to see more of the same. He simply wants the former fifth-round draft pick to execute the little things that can eventually add up to victories.
"We want to see Troy play quarterback well, and do the things that winning quarterbacks do," Harbaugh explained. "Move the team, make good decisions, operate the offense and avoid the costly mistake."
Smith seemed to do all those last week against the New England Patriots. Entering the game midway through the second quarter, the Cleveland native led two scoring drives, completing 5 of 12 passes for 74 yards, including a 30-yard rope to wideout Darnerien McCants.
He looked (typically) cool in a pocket that seemed to disintegrate faster as the game wore on and a short-handed group of Ravens linemen tired. When it did collapse, Smith showed the mobility and athleticism to make plays from outside the hashmarks, one of his positives in the quarterback race.
Smith has also worked tirelessly with new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron not only to master Cameron's playbook, but also to sharpen his technique.
"Any time you get a chance to have incredible reps at certain plays over and over again," Smith contended, "it does nothing but make you feel a little more comfortable with the offense."
No matter how he fares personally, however, Smith sticks by his team-first attitude. Putting his communications degree to good use, Smith keeps his message clear so there is no room for false interpretation.
"I don't think about things just in context of myself," he said. "It's about the team all the time.
"I'm just going to step out there and try to be cool and calm and lead this team to a victory."
Here are some more notes and observations from Thursday's morning practice:
- The Ravens' secondary was banged-up, with cornerbacks Chris McAlister (knee), Samari Rolle (leg), Fabian Washington (neck), Derrick Martin (head) and David Pittman (undisclosed) only participating in individual drills.
In addition, safety Ed Reed (shoulder) was held out because of what Harbaugh said was "some issue right before practice that came up last night that he was in the training room with."
The Ravens added cornerback Anwar Phillips, who was released by the team Aug. 1, to provide depth at the position. Offensive tackle Isaiah Wiggins was released to create room for Phillips on the roster.
Baltimore did not have the services of running back Willis McGahee (knee surgery); linebackers Dan Cody (foot) and Tavares Gooden (hip); tight ends Daniel Wilcox (foot) and Todd Heap (calf); defensive tackles Kelly Gregg (knee) and Kelly Talavou (shoulder); offensive tackles Adam Terry (ankle) and Jared Gaither (ankle); and wideout Demetrius Williams (leg).
Wideout Derrick Mason was shaken up in the first half of practice and did not return. He limped off the field with the help of trainers, who wrapped and iced his knee. Mason seemed to be able to put pressure on his knee when he was standing on the sideline. * Linebacker Terrell Suggs remained a no-show, as he still must sign his one-year franchise tender.
Harbaugh expressed hope that Suggs would rejoin the team next week.
"There's a chance," he tersely stated. "He's making that determination now." * With Reed sidelined - and expected not to play this weekend - safety Jim Leonhard practiced with the starters. Leonhard was praised after a gritty performance in New England, where he even lined up at defensive tackle for one snap.
Leonhard had a stellar morning session. During a full-team drill, Flacco had a beat on a wide open Mark Clayton, but Leonhard came from nowhere to tip the ball just as Clayton would have hauled it in. Later, he made a leaping tip of another Flacco pass in a skel portion. * Matt Stover booted five successful field goals, including a 46- and 51-yarder.
- The a.m. crowd was raucous and gave the team a standing ovation after the final horn. Players such as Flacco, Smith, Pittman, Ray Lewis, Edgar Jones, Jason Brown responded by sticking around extra-long to sign autographs. Smith even went back to his locker to grab three extra pairs of cleats, which he had teammates sign before giving them to lucky Ravens Rookies.