Harper Steps It Up at Practice

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Justin Harper  had a big Wednesday at Ravens training camp.

In fact, if there was a Most Valuable Practicer award, he probably would have won it.

Harper earned cheers when he cradled a long touchdown bomb from quarterback Joe Flacco in the end zone during warm-ups.

He snatched a Flacco bullet over the middle and weaved through the defense en route to paydirt, meriting praise from offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

And in the most gasp-inducing play of the morning practice, Harper turned a tough 60-yard completion into a 99-yard score. Harper used his 6-foot-3, 215-pound frame to box-out cornerback Lardarius Webb and wrestle the ball away. Then, he turned on the jets and sprinted away from all pursuers on his way to the end zone.

Afterwards, the second-year receiver barely acknowledged his performance.

"That's what I have to do, catch balls and do it on a consistent basis," he said after the morning session. "I'm already putting this practice behind me and looking forward to the afternoon. Last year, I would harp on the practice all day and couldn't put two good ones together. Now, my main objective is to keep stacking practices on top of each other."

Harper learned his lesson the hard way.

The Ravens drafted the Virginia Tech product last season, but his rookie year was lost when he suffered a knee injury in the preseason.

Still, Harper remained an active member of the franchise. He was at the Ravens' training facility nearly every day, interacting with teammates, rehabbing with team trainers and even attending meetings.

"It's a big difference from then to now," said Harper. "I was one of the only IR guys that was in every meeting, stayed in town and was at the practices, even though I couldn't play. I think that helped me grow as a player."

Harper would be the first to admit that he is still developing, but the flashes of talent surely are encouraging to the Ravens.

Considering Derrick Mason and Drew Bennett's retirement and a battle for a spot on the depth chart next to Mark Clayton, Harper will get his chances to show he belongs.

Right now, that competition also includes Demetrius WilliamsMarcus Smith and Kelley Washington, which has caused grumbling among fans and media.

"You've never heard us say, 'We need a No. 1 guy, a No. 2 guy, a No. 3 guy.' We don't put our receivers in that kind of [order]," said head coach John Harbaugh. "We have an X, a Y and a Z, and they're all interchangeable. We're going to put one receiver out there sometimes, and we're going to put five receivers out there sometimes. It's going to be based on game plan, and they're all going to be guys that can win for us.

"Do we need some guys to step up and become part of that group? Absolutely. We're looking forward to seeing who it is."

All Harper wants is a chance to be one of those guys, a possibility that was cut short in 2008.

"The opportunity is always going to be there, so it's up to me to take advantage of it now," Harper said. "Last year, I felt like I was going through the motions sometimes. This year, I'm ready to help this team go to the Super Bowl. It's about getting to the next play, getting to the next practice and building on that."  

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