Todd Heap is certainly getting his share of work in training camp. The eight-year veteran leads a thin group of tight ends in need of some depth, especially considering the blistering humidity of Westminster is only going to get worse.
Still, Heap refuses to complain. In fact, he is enjoying the opportunity to take additional repetitions in the absence of tight ends Daniel Wilcox, who is still nursing a foot injury, and Quinn Sypniewski, an Injured Reserve casualty.
At various times, the Ravens have been without recent signees Adam Bergen and Aaron Walker, and Lee Vickers is getting less and less time on the field, making Heap the most consistent tight end through the first four days of camp.
"Not a lot of bodies, but it's only going to get us in better shape," Heap said after Monday's morning session. "It's only going to get me in better shape, that's for sure – and better shape quicker. I'm usually in pretty good shape come that first preseason game, but I'm going to get there a little bit quicker this year because I've done so many reps so far."
Under head coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens have made the most of each moment in practice, using continuously-running play clocks to accelerate the pace, which leads to more snaps.
Additionally, an increased amount of fully-padded workouts keeps Heap working as hard as he's ever done this early in the preseason.
At first, it was a transition. As a two-time Pro Bowler, players of Heap's stature on other teams might often take series off when conditions are particularly nasty. That isn't the case in Baltimore, where the team comes far before any individual.
Because he claims to be 100 percent healthy – after a hamstring injury limited him to six games last season and continued to plague him in the offseason – Heap wants to be in on all the action he can.
When he does put together an entire campaign, Heap knows he can be one of the best tight ends in the league. In 2007, he managed only 23 receptions for 239 yards and one touchdown. Starting all 16 contests the two previous years, Heap combined for 148 catches for 1,620 yards and 13 scores.
"Right now I'm feeling great," he said. "This is as healthy as I've been in a while, so I'm excited about this year. I'm getting a lot of work in and feeling good with all that. I'm looking forward to this year. I'm looking forward to getting through this training camp and getting as many reps in as possible, getting comfortable with this in a new offense."
The Ravens' coaches are also learning how to best use Heap as a weapon.
New offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is known for featuring the tight end in his typically prolific system. San Diego Chargers tight end Antonio Gates went from NCAA basketball player to All-Pro under Cameron's tutelage.
Now, Cameron hopes to make Heap one of many focal points in Baltimore.
"I'm getting to know Todd better," said the coordinator. "He's a guy we're going to lean on. At the same time we know that everybody in the league knows about Todd, so the other guys have to keep developing. He's a critical component to what we do, but he's not the only guy. Every guy has a role.
"We want every guy involved in this offense."
With Wilcox's return from the training room making slow progress, the Ravens are looking for production out of any other tight end on the roster.
To that end, Heap has assumed a mentoring role as Bergen, Walker and Vickers get acclimated, something former Raven Shannon Sharpe did in 2001, the year Heap was drafted 31st overall.
"I've got to help the young guys and help new guys learn our offense as quickly as possible," Heap stated. "When you're wanting to be a good team, you have to make sure that everybody knows what's going on.
"We've got some tight ends that weren't here this offseason that we brought in for camp, and I've been trying to make sure they've been picking up on this offense just as quickly as they can."
If nothing else, getting those tight ends up to speed will give the 28-year-old Heap a chance to rest for a few snaps.
Then again, Heap might not want it.
Here are some other notes and observations from Monday's practices, the second of which focused on special teams:
- The Ravens welcomed running back Willis McGahee to the field after he sat out Sunday's session, along with cornerback David Pittman, offensive lineman David Hale and linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo.
Members of the "Over 30 Club" also returned, with defensive tackles Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce, cornerback Corey Ivy and linebacker Gary Stills practicing.
Offensive tackle Jared Gaither, defensive tackles Haloti Ngata and J'Vonne Parker, and running backs P.J. Daniels and Cory Ross were sidelined.
Safety Ed Reed and Wilcox are still unable to practice due to injury.
- Kyle Boller got the first-string nod Monday, and he immediately established a connection with Mark Clayton, connecting on three passes in the opening portion.
- Each signal-caller had a chance to try to get into the end zone in a goal line situation, but Boller couldn't punch it through. Troy Smith had two scores, rolling out to the left on one where he froze the defense and juked by Tom Zbikowski. Joe Flacco hit Vickers with a play-action pass for one touchdown, and then running back Ray Rice bulled his way in for two more.
- Linebacker Dan Cody limped off the field during the goal-line section, but returned later and even notched a sack of Boller.
- Kicker Matt Stover missed three field goals, and the 19-year veteran was still chastising himself after practice. "Man, I hate to miss field goals," he said to some teammates.
- In the final portion of the a.m. session, Harbaugh and many other coaches joined the kickoff coverage unit, donning the bright yellow caps that players normally put on their helmets.
Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, secondary coach Mark Carrier, receivers coach Jim Hostler, offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg and intern linebackers coach Brad Jackson were also seen sprinting down the field in coverage.
- Typically, special teams practice practices don't involve the most-seasoned veterans that don't normally play special teams, but Ray Lewis, Heap and Derrick Mason were all watching from the sideline.
- Offensive line coach John Matsko didn't let his unit rest, as the entire group was on the second field working on technique.