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Learning the Language


As the Ravens enter their second three-day minicamp of the offseason, the offense is trying to learn a new language.

Whether it is turning words into numbers or the other way around, the process of assimilating offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's bulky playbook has proven to be a challenge.

Under former coach Brian Billick's regime, routes for receivers were marked by actual words, while protections were given a numerical designation, the polar opposite of Cameron's offense. While the offensive principals and many of the plays are the same, but knowing what they are called is imperative in the huddle.

"Every transition is a little different," Cameron said after Thursday's practice. "Sometimes you take everything they have and just go with that. But then sometimes, you have a mix of the two. Well, this was one of those cases where it was a complete start from scratch. We just had to switch our thinking a little bit."

It all started in late March, around the time the Ravens' offseason conditioning program officially began on the 18th. Cameron used valuable meeting time to re-train the players' mentality, while taking the quarterbacks and receivers to the field for added repetitions.

"In the meetings, everything is very detailed," said quarterback Kyle Boller. "You've got to know it. They are not going to spoon feed it to you.

"You've got to keep learning it. I think that's important. It makes guys be accountable, and that's what we need for our offense to be successful."

In practice, Cameron, quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson and wideouts coach Jim Hostler are constantly serving up pop quizzes on various plays. During special teams drills, the quarterbacks will go to a side field and practice their timing with an available tight end or receiver.

Because the core group of wideouts - which includes Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton, Demetrius Williams and Yamon Figurs - has been at Ravens headquarters since the beginning, Cameron believes there is chemistry building.

"We've had some really positive work, mainly because we've had the guys here from the start," he said, noting tight ends Todd Heap and Daniel Wilcox. "They're really eager to learn."

Mason, the veteran leader of the receiving corps, agrees.

"It's better with everyone here now," said Mason, who was part of a similar offensive system as a Tennessee Titan in 1997 under then-coordinator Les Steckel. "If we can just get on the same page by training camp, it's going to be an easy transition. It's good working with Cam."

And while the players are getting comfortable with their new coordinator, it is just as important for Cameron to learn the strengths of his charges.

"They're all good football players because they can do a variety of things," said Cameron. "Derrick and Mark have played a variety of positions, Demetrius seems to be improving, and Yamon is making strides for us."

With the main pass-catchers set, there are still some questions about who will be throwing the passes.

Since Steve McNair's retirement last month, the Ravens have made no secret of an open competition between Kyle Boller and Troy Smith. Drafting quarterback Joe Flacco in the first round last weekend only increased the talent pool.

Despite Baltimore's uncertainty under center, however, Cameron considers the homework his current quarterbacks and receivers complete before next week's practices as extra credit.

"We want to give the physical priority to the strength and conditioning staff, but we want their mental priority on the field," Cameron said. "We want our players to understand how important the weight room is, because we want every guy to be physical this year.

"But, we've been able to get a lot of work done in the classroom, which had been great. In my view, all the work up until that first mandatory minicamp is a bonus."

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