The Ravens will hit the field for a preseason game in just three days, but they didn't take it easy in their first training camp practice of the week.
Head Coach John Harbaugh had his team in full pads for Monday's morning session, and the group went through several full-contact drills during the three-hour practice.
"It was a very physical day," Harbaugh said. "This will be the last really aggressive practice that we'll have before Thursday. And we're really excited about Thursday night."
The intensity was most noticeable early in the day during a series of drills focused on the running game. The men in the trenches got after each other with several big collisions – fans in the crowd remarked how loud the cracking of the pads was – and there was also a little shoving between plays.
Nobody threw any punches and the scuffles didn't escalate beyond some choice words and a little shoving, but the competiveness early in practice helped set the tone for the day.
"They were a little edgy out there early, but they're sick of hitting one another," Harbaugh said. "It's classic training camp. The timing is about right [for the preseason]. It's time to go play against someone else."
The Ravens will open the preseason at Thursday at M&T Bank Stadium at 7:30 p.m. against the New Orleans Saints.
Returner Competition Takes Center Stage
The Ravens are in the middle of evaluating the wide-open competition at starting punt and kick returner. Several players are splitting reps at each spot, and coaches spent a good portion of practice surveying their options.
Michael Campanaro, Steve Smith Sr., Lardarius Webb, DeAndre Carter, Asa Jackson and Aldrick Robinson all shared snaps at punt returner. The Ravens had punters Sam Koch and Justin Manton boot live punts to give the returners plenty of looks as the coverage team bore down.
It was fitting that Smith took his share of punt returns on the day he announced his plans to retire after this season. No other player his age is taking punt return reps in training camp, and he took as many reps as the coaches would allow.
The coaches also got a good look at their kick returner, and Jackson seems to have a slight edge in that battle. He demonstrated good speed and vision to find a seam during a return, and Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg showed his excitement by shouting, "Score! Score! Score!" as Jackson broke through the coverage.
The returner competition is still undecided, and the start of the preseason will help create some separation in the race.
Here were other notes from practice:
- First-round pick Breshad Perriman missed his ninth straight practice with a knee injury. Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan (foot), safety Kendrick Lewis (unspecified), guard John Urschel (concussion), Robert Myers (concussion) and defensive tackle DeAngelo Tyson (unspecified) also didn't practice.
- Tight end Maxx Williams returned to practice after missing time because he got poked in the eye. Wide receiver Marlon Brown (hamstring, back) and Kelechi Osemele (foot), cornerbacks Tray Walker (hamstring) and Chris Greenwood (hamstring) were all back at practice.
- Cornerback Lardarius Webb left practice early after tweaking his hamstring.
- Rookie receiver Darren Waller beat Webb on a seam route down the sideline that went for about a 60-yard touchdown. Quarterback Joe Flacco hit Waller perfectly in stride and the big receiver cruised into the end zone.
- Former Raven Chris Carr visited practice with his family. The cornerback retired after the 2013 season and he is currently in law school at George Washington University.
- Flacco was intercepted a few times during practice. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Asa Jackson, and safety Anthony Levine all picked off the starting quarterback at one point. The Ravens defense has emphasized the importance of getting more turnovers this year, and this practice was a good sign for the secondary.
- Rookie defensive lineman Carl Davis spent practice working with the first team as starting defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan was sidelined with a foot injury. Davis has drawn high praise over the last week, and his time with the starters shows the coaches have confidence in him.
- Backup quarterback Matt Schaub had a strong finish to practice with touchdown passes to wide receivers Dan Brown and Trent Steelman in red-zone work.
- Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs had the line of the day after the defense made a few stops in a row. "We're sleeping through this," Suggs shouted, looking to the offense's sideline. "Pitta, you better get your [butt] back out here."