In order for the Ravens to fully evaluate their team in training camp, they first must get all 80 men on the field. On the second day of official training camp, the Ravens were without many key players due to various reasons.
But, with those key players absent, head coach John Harbaugh sees chances for others to step up.
Cornerback Chris McAlister, linebacker Ray Lewis, wideout Derrick Mason and safety Ed Reed all flew down to south Florida to attend the funeral of teammate Samari Rolle's father, who unexpectedly passed away from a heart attack last week.
Then there is cornerback David Pittman (foot), receiver Demetrius Williams (Achilles) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (foot), all of whom are nursing injuries and cannot participate.
In addition, linebacker Terrell Suggs is still absent because he hasn't signed his one-year franchise tender.
"Guys are not here with injuries, or you've got the [Terrell] Suggs situation. Guys are not in practice for a variety of situations," Harbaugh said. "The one thing that's consistent in all those different situations is that it's a great opportunity for the next man. That's what guys do in football."
While the Ravens welcomed fullback Le'Ron McClain and cornerback Fabian Washington back to the field after each one passed their conditioning test Saturday morning, there were still many holes to be filled.
Corey Ivy and Frank Walker played with the first string at corner, and Nick Greisen subbed at middle linebacker.
Reed's safety spot was taken by Jim Leonhard, while three players - Antwan Barnes, Edgar Jones and Gary Stills saw time at outside linebacker for Suggs.
The mixing and matching wasn't finished there. Left tackle Jared Gaither did not practice in the afternoon session after having his ankle heavily taped at the end of the morning practice, moving Adam Terry to the left side and Mike Kracalik to the right.
Even Terry is not fully healthy, as an ankle injury is still giving him pain.
"He looks to me like he's about 85-90 percent, as far as the mobility part of it," Harbaugh said. "He looks like he's still got some functional strength and some power there, but every now and then he gets a little light on it. I'm sure he's fighting through a lot of pain."
It seems that a lot of Ravens are feeling a little pain.
Here are some notes and observations from Saturday afternoon's practice:
- Haruki Nakamura did it again, nabbing his third interception in the past two days. The rookie located a Joe Flacco pass that tipped off linebacker Jameel McClain into his hands. Then, on the next play, he was a second too late to a receiver over the middle to notch another pick.
- Quarterback Troy Smith was stellar during full-team drills. With the defensive front seven getting good rushes against his third-string offensive line, Smith was poised in the pocket and moved around well.
On one play, he made a little sidestep to avoid a linebacker and delivered a sharp 15-yard pass to tight end Aaron Walker.
- Smith also delivered the pass of the afternoon, finding Willis McGahee streaking down the sideline for what must have been a 30-yard bomb. McGahee would have scored on that one.
- Todd Heap still had some fight in him, ripping a would-be interception out of Jones' hands in seven-on-seven action.
- The Ravens threw three consecutive screens in 11-on-11, first to Ray Rice, then to Allen Patrick and again to Rice. Rice took his second chance for a big gain, following a crushing block from Adrien Clarke in the open field.
The Baltimore Ravens held their single-game ticket sales this morning, and almost immediately sold out the first seven games of the regular season. There are a limited number of tickets remaining for the regular season home finale scheduled for Dec. 28 against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
There are fewer than 1,000 tickets each left for the Ravens' two preseason games at M&T Bank Stadium: Aug. 16 against the Minnesota Vikings and Aug. 28 versus the Atlanta Falcons.
The Ravens had a few extra sets of eyes on Saturday's practice, as four officials attended the morning session for their annual visit to training camp.
With flags and whistles ready, the officials will call infractions on the field and school players on rule changes for the coming season.
Among those changes is the ability to review field goals through instant replay – including kicks that bounce off the uprights, like the controversial final kick in the Ravens' loss to the Cleveland Browns last year – and the elimination of the 5-yard face mask penalty.
The officiating group, headed by NFL referee Scott Green, will then give a presentation to the players and another to the media to answer any questions and overview interpretations.
Head coach John Harbaugh is happy to open camp to the "zebras."
"Well the biggest thing is what we are trying to do is make everything in practice as much like the game as we possibly can and obviously, in the game you have officials," Harbaugh said.
Although it was impossible to overlook the striped shirts positioned at key places on the field, the penalties were kept at a minimum.
Wideout Justin Harper was called for offensive pass interference on a ball that was intercepted by Derrick Martin, and the offense was called for a delay of game with Joe Flacco at the helm.
Harbaugh said he would like to continue having officials throughout training camp by bringing in representatives from area conferences.
"That will be beneficial for us," he said. "We will have the local officials – the aspiring NFL officials – here every morning through training camp."
Setting up the game-like conditions led Harbaugh to think about how he's going to deal with officiating crews in his first season commanding the sideline.
"I want to get along with everybody," he said with a smile. "I really want to get along with the officials. That's my goal, to have a good relationship with the officials. The great thing with the officials in the NFL is that they really want to communicate.
"As long as you're respectful, you know they have a job to do, and they do a really good job. They really do talk to you. It's not really adversarial very often. Some times it gets frustrating, but they understand that, too."
And when they are at practice, the players, like Martin, can only benefit, even if not everyone agrees on the call.
"Hey, he was all over me," the cornerback joked. "They got that one right."
Here are some more notes and observations from Saturday's morning practice:
- Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Cam Cameron have stuck to their guns regarding the three quarterback race. Joe Flacco, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith have all taken nearly the same amount of reps with the first team.
All three have made their share of nice throws, just as all have misfired on some.
- In an uncharacteristic move, tight end Todd Heap came to blows with linebacker Jarret Johnson. Though the two are friends in the locker room, it got pretty heated when Heap was blocking Johnson midway through practice. When tight end Lee Vickers and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata jumped in, it was definitely a full-fledged fight.
Heap and Johnson got into it again later during full-team work, but that was broken up quickly.
- After missing yesterday because they weren't ready to practice, according to Harbaugh, fullback Le'Ron McClain and cornerback Fabian Washington were on the field. Both passed their conditioning test in the morning.
McClain actually had to be helped off the field and take fluids when the session was over because of cramps, but as linebacker Bart Scott noticed, the running test almost added another full practice.
- Running back Ray Rice showed the ability to disappear into the middle of the line and pop out on the other end, sometimes carrying two and three tacklers. Using his diminutive 5-foot-8 height to his advantage, Rice is built so powerfully low to the ground that he is tough to bring down, while still possessing the speed to accelerate past defenders.
- It was tough to pinpoint a pass of the morning. Matt Willis made an amazing grab over the middle when he reeled in a Flacco pass by his fingertips and then hit the turf.
But, Smith followed that up with a 35-yard teardrop that Harper caught over his shoulder.
- On one running play, the 260-pound McClain crunched safety Tom Zbikowski while paving the way for Willis McGahee, but Zbikowski was able to shed the fullback cleanly and make the stop.
- Scott had a particularly monster practice, slicing through offensive linemen to get in the backfield on multiple occasions.
When it was over, Scott was dripping with sweat and still slowing his breath, but was nonchalant about the heat and hard work.
"Man, this is nothing," he said. "I can go all day."
Hopefully, it doesn't get too hot this afternoon, then, because Scott only has one speed – fast.