Over-30 Club Still Productive

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The absences at Ravens training camp in Monday's practice would be alarming to an outsider as several key starters were missing.

Receiver Derrick Mason, safety Ed Reed, linebacker Ray Lewis, defensive tackles Trevor Pryce and Kelly Gregg and center Matt Birk were among those not practicing.

But upon further inspection of the roster, a light bulb should switch on with the realization that Monday was for the "Over-30 Club," a designation crafted by head coach John Harbaugh to rest those players every third day of training camp.

The Ravens only have 10 players on their 80-man roster – with wideout Kelley Washington making it 11 on his Aug. 21 birthday – who belong to the club.

The list is laden with major contributors. In addition to the aforementioned group, special teams Pro Bowler Brendon Ayanbadejo, cornerback Samari Rolle and defensive tackle Justin Bannan are past the 30 mark. Quarterback Cleo Lemon's 30th birthday was Sunday, the day he signed with the Ravens.

That the Ravens are heading into the 2009 campaign with such a young squad is a testament to general manager Ozzie Newsome's plan.

That there is still so much talent in the elder statesmen bodes well for the next generation, as the Ravens are coming off a year where they were one win away from a Super Bowl appearance.

While Mason is closely monitoring a shoulder injury that required offseason surgery, Reed must occasionally wear a red non-contact jersey and Rolle remains on the Physically Unable to Perform list, the Ravens' Over-30 Club is far from geriatric.

"I still feel great out there," said Bannan, who started 15 games for an injured Gregg last season. "I don't feel any different than I did a few years ago. I hope it stays that way for a few more years."

Nowhere is that more evident that with Lewis.

His 10th Pro Bowl berth and a first-team All-Pro nod were the result of a 160-tackle, 3.5-sack and three interception performance in 2008.

Lewis, who was first drafted by the Ravens in 1996 (26th overall), turned 34 in May, two months after he signed a seven-year contract that will keep him in purple and black through 2015.

The 14-year veteran does not see himself slowing down, either.

"First of all, it's just a blessing to God that I can come back and do it year after year – come back with no injuries, no setbacks and things like that," said Lewis, a notoriously tireless worker in the offseason. "Anytime that you can find yourself feeling as good as I've been feeling this past offseason, training-wise, you really have fun training.

"That's what I went back to – I had a lot of fun training this year. There was no lagging and things like that. Fourteen – it's a great number. For me, I'm always chasing to do some different and new things. I keep them to myself, but there's a lot of great goals I have set for myself."

Mason, 33, ended his brief flirtation with retirement by coming back to fulfill the final year of his contract. The dependable wideout led the Ravens last year with 80 catches for 1,037 yards and five touchdowns.

While he is not as forward-thinking as Lewis, Mason believes he is primed for another productive outing.

His attitude confirms it. Even though he wasn't on the practice field Monday, Mason's boundless energy and loquacious nature contradict his age.

"This season is very important to me," Mason stated. "It's very important to this team. I'm not going to look past this year. I'm going to enjoy each day I'm out here. I'm going to enjoy each practice. I'm going to enjoy each game that we have, preseason or regular season. I'm going to enjoy it. I'm going to worry about next year when next year comes."

Ayanbadejo and Birk both enjoyed at least part of Monday's morning session. Ayanbadejo participated after missing a string of early practices because of a toe injury.

Birk, who signed a three-year contract in March, got a mental workout as he stood with his fellow offensive linemen without pads or a helmet.

"Everyone thinks because I'm older, more experienced, automatically that makes me a leader," Birk said. "You know, I don't think so. I don't think you're anointed as leader, I think it's something you earn. I'm just trying to earn the trust of the group."

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