At the end of the Ravens' three-day rookie camp, many sides were in agreement that holding school until the veterans came and went was beneficial to the entire class.
The team may even continue the notion in the future.
The original idea stemmed from quarterback Joe Flacco's inability to attend the early camps. Head coach John Harbaugh then pitched his assistants on the idea of moving it to a later date. In the end, it was both sides of the ball that earned a victory, not just Flacco and the offense.
After Tuesday's practice, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said he could see a marked improvement from the rookies that first reported to Ravens headquarters May 1 and the prospects walking off the field under some mid-June sunshine.
"I like the way we did it here," Ryan explained. "I don't know if it's been done anywhere else. Usually, you have the rookies in first to see what your draft class looks like, and you have a lot of tryout guys and things like that. But, they don't know anything, so here it's just the opposite.
"They've been with us for several weeks now, so you can actually get something accomplished."
Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron thought Harbaugh's approach was a novel idea. As a former head coach with the Miami Dolphins and a longtime coordinator, Cameron had never heard of holding a late rookie camp.
"John mentioned this to me, and I hadn't thought about having it on the back end instead of the front end," he said Wednesday. "I guess, as coaches, you just get in a certain habit of doing things – you have the draft and then you have the rookie minicamp. There's no doubt in our minds that this is probably the best time to have it.
"Whether the overall schedule allows you to do that every year, I don't know that we know that yet. But, I think they absorbed a lot more now. Things were really starting to sink in, which is the important thing."
Still, it has been more of a test for Ryan and the defensive coaches to install much more of the defense.
The Ravens only had two safeties – draft picks Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura – two linebackers – third-rounder Tavares Gooden and rookie free agent Jameel McClain – and defensive tackles Kelly Talavou and Lorenzo Williams to field an 11-man defense.
Ryan employed various tactics to field a full squad, whether that was plugging in local tryout players, groundskeepers, coaches or even a quarterback into the empty positions. The out-of-place substitutes were noted by their yellow and green mesh vests.
"We had [Brad] Roach, a big 6-foot-7 quarterback, playing defensive end in the team period," he said with a laugh. "But, other than that, it's great. They're way ahead of the curve here, and these are valuable reps, reps that a lot of times – especially the guys who are running with the third team – they might not get these kinds of reps. It's been fantastic."
Despite his limited resources, Ryan enjoyed being able to personally instruct each rookie and first-year player – something the players appreciated, as well.
"I really believe this rookie camp helps us out, getting some one-on-one time with the linebackers coach and D-coordinator," said Gooden. "We're really just running the defense and learning the [coverage] drops."
Offensively, there was little room for error. Because he had a full unit, Cameron was able to delve deep into the playbook.
On the final day, as if to challenge the rookies, Cameron even constructed a high-paced walk-through towards the end of practice. Even though it was a non-contact drill, the goal was met for everyone, including the short-handed defense.
"The tempo physically is not full speed, but the tempo mentally is still full speed," said Harbaugh. "Those are just invaluable reps for those guys, and they get all the reps as opposed to watching a veteran take the rep."
"The tempo at the end was a Raven tempo," he added with a satisfied grin.
Judging by Harbaugh, Ryan and Cameron's concurring sentiments, what began as a temporary experiment to accommodate a first-round quarterback may become an annual event.
"We're on our way," Harbaugh said. "I think our football team is on its way. We couldn't have worked any harder. We couldn't have done any more with them. We took advantage of every day, and our guys responded.
"I would say that, as a football team, we're on our way."
Attending for the Offense
All week, Cameron and the offensive coaches utilized Flacco and Roach at quarterback; wideouts Marcus Smith, Justin Harper, Ernie Wheelwright and Patrick Carter; running backs Ray Rice and Allen Patrick; fullback Jake Nordin; offensive linemen Oniel Cousins, David Hale, Adam Kraus, Brandon Barnes, Joe Reitz and Sean Dumford; and tight end Xavier Lee.
Patrick did not practice Wednesday due to a strained hamstring.
"He's been fighting that, really, since he got here," Harbaugh said of Patrick. "He's going to have to work hard over the next few weeks and get healthy."
Harbaugh Part of History
After only five months on the job as head coach of the Ravens, Harbaugh has already seen two all-time greats walk away from the game.
In April, quarterback Steve McNair decided to end his storied 13-year career.
And just last week, tackle Jonathan Ogden wrapped up what will go down as one of the best tenures for any offensive lineman.
The duo is already being included in Hall of Fame talks for 2013, the first year they'll be eligible. Ogden is considered a lock, while McNair deserves a mention, as well.
"It's kind of neat, I guess, in some ways, to have been here for five months and see two of the greatest players in the history of the game retire," Harbaugh said. "I'm not sure if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but it was a great experience. And to take that in and to see what Jonathan Ogden is all about, even over the last few conversations we've had, it's an honor."
Going along with his theme of "Team," Harbaugh focused on the entire group's success during rookie camp. "I think it was just a learning camp. I would single out the group," he said. "They stood out. They worked hard. They were very coachable, and they got better."…Mere hours after the rookies left the practice fields behind Ravens headquarters, team groundskeepers went to work aerating and re-seeding the turf…Rookies, injured veterans and quarterbacks will reconvene in Westminster, Md. July 21 for training camp, followed by the rest of the squad on the 24th.