The month of July was huge for Ravens tight end Todd Heap.
He had been limited in all of Baltimore's offseason minicamps, relegated to wearing a red non-contact jersey because of a lingering back injury that had plagued him since the end of the 2008 campaign.
But after a mix of hard work and rest, Heap believes he is back to the Pro Bowler he has always been. While Heap attributes part of the Ravens' offseason conditioning program to his recovery, it was the month of rest that really helped him get healthy.
"It took a while. It took a lot of work," Heap said. "I put in a lot of work this offseason. There were points when I was saying, 'Man, am I going to get there?' But in the last month and a half, I just made strides every day. I've been feeling really good. I came into camp the first day, and I was coming out of the blocks as good as I ever have."
That much has shown early in training camp, and the Ravens' coaches are noticing.
"Todd has done a really good job in the offseason getting himself ready," said head coach John Harbaugh. "He looks like he's getting himself ready to have a really good season. He'll be the first to tell you that he's got a lot of work to do between now and then, but he's done well."
One look at Heap's long stride after catching a pass is all the testimony one needs to see that he is recovered.
And the Ravens need him at full strength.
One year ago, Heap was asked to stay on the line of scrimmage more as a blocker, helping to protect then-rookie quarterback Joe Flacco on a spotty offensive line.
Heap, whose best season came in 2005 when he caught 75 passes for 855 yards and seven touchdowns, turned in modest numbers for a player of his caliber.
The 2008 campaign saw Heap catch only 35 passes for 403 and three touchdowns.
Heap isn't looking at statistics, however.
"[It's] not about numbers, but there's always something to prove," he said. "Every year I've come in with something to prove – that's just my philosophy. There's nobody that's going to hold me to a higher standard than myself.
"Obviously, I want to come in and have a big year, but first and foremost is that our team has a big year."
Heap figures to be a big part of the Ravens' offense. With the addition of fellow tight end L.J. Smith, Baltimore has two of the NFL's most talented receiving threats at the position.
"I'm just waiting to get L.J. out here to where we can work together and really feel what it's like to block next to one another, to run routes with one another," Heap said. "I'm excited about L.J. I've watched him over the years. I know he's a great player. We can put some pressure on some defenses with two tight end sets and them not knowing whether it's a run or pass, or what we're going to throw at them or where anybody's going to line up."
The Ravens have only brushed the surface of their tight end situation. Smith just recently returned to practice because of an early-training camp hamstring injury.
But even though Heap is coming off a season where he wasn't up to his typical standard – as far as yards and touchdowns go – he is not about proving doubters wrong.
Heap simply follows the same focus as he always has.
"Anytime you come into a new season there's a new excitement," Heap said. "There's a goal in front of you, and that's what you do every year, set a goal and you do everything you can to attain that goal. I think that's where we're at right now. We're trying to do everything we can to get ourselves ready to where we can reach our goals."