Ravens Still Speaking With Absent Sizzle

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It was not a surprise, but Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs did not attend the team's only mandatory minicamp of the offseason.

Suggs still has not signed his one-year franchise tender, meaning that he is not yet officially under contract.

It is the second consecutive offseason where Suggs was absent from the mandatory camp. Last year, the Ravens also slapped him with the franchise tag, and Suggs did not report and sign his contract until the day after training camp broke in August.

While Baltimore - led by general manager Ozzie Newsome - hopes to come to an agreement with Suggs and his agent on a long-term deal, head coach John Harbaugh is not worried about Suggs' preparation away from Ravens headquarters in Owings Mills, Md.

"Football-wise, we're in contact with him," Harbaugh said after Friday's morning session. "He wants to come back, and you can bet on that. He'd like to be here at practice, that's for sure."

In addition to Suggs, right tackle Willie Anderson, who started 11 games last year, was not on the practice field.

Harbaugh said that Anderson had sore knees and was working with team trainers.

"Willie has some injury issues with the knees," the coach explained. "He's working with the trainers in there, so we've just got to see what he's going to do. He's got some things that just don't allow him to practice right now or to be out here."

Regarding the rest of the rest squad, Harbaugh was enthusiastic about a solid day's worth of work.

The momentum that began on March 13 with the offseason conditioning program continued Friday.

"We've been doing football schools, which is why I think they were pretty strong today - lifting, stretching and all those different kinds of things," said Harbaugh. "The most challenging thing is the pace of practice, being able to process information quickly in a game setting. Really, as far as doing that, for the first day, I thought we did that well."

For veterans like linebacker Ray Lewis, the franchise's second-ever draft pick in 1996, opening day is merely an annual ritual signifying the start of the upcoming campaign.

But for the 19 rookies present, it signified something more.

"All the coaches and players were flying around the ball," said 2009 second-round draft pick Paul Kruger. "It was very intense, and you can tell that everyone desires to do great things this year. I'm happy to be part of that.

"I walked in here and met Ray Lewis, and he said, 'Let's make some special things happen.' That's what is on everybody's mind. Just being in this kind of atmosphere is something you think about when you're a little kid, so it's pretty overwhelming. But, it's the same game. It's intense, but it's something I'm getting used to."

Not having Suggs and Anderson gave opportunities to some of those young players.

Rookie free agent William VanDeSteeg lined up with the first unit at outside linebacker/defensive end for Suggs, and first-rounder Michael Oher took Anderson's spot.

The Ravens were also cautious with a number of injured players. Eighteen Ravens donned red mesh tops over their practice jerseys to signify they were limited in practice, including several starters.

Running back Willis McGahee, tight ends L.J. Smith and Todd Heap ; defensive backs Ed Reed, Chris Carr, Fabian Washington, Samari Rolle and Frank Walker; wideouts Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams; offensive linemen Ben Grubbs, Marshal Yanda, Adam Terry and Brian Johnson; defensive tackle Kelly Talavou; and linebackers Jason Phillips and Antwan Barnes all wore the red shirts.

Still, that list did not contain many key names that finished last season on Injured Reserve, such as defensive tackles Kelly Gregg and Dwan Edwards, tight end Quinn Sypniewski and safety Dawan Landry.

"When you step back and look at it, it actually looks more exciting, because you've actually got your two- or three-deeps back," Lewis said. "You lose a Kelly, you lose guys like that, you lose Suggs late in the season last year, then you look very thin. But when you start to get these guys back, and now compete… now you can see the whole core back.

"We have so many pieces still here, and so many pieces that weren't here last year [due to] injuries or whatever. So, it's really exciting to get them back, and we're happy to welcome them back."

With so many new or inexperienced prospects filling the empty places, there were obviously some miscues.

In fact, the first snap from newly-acquired center Matt Birk to quarterback Joe Flacco was fumbled.

But the Ravens rallied to turn in a sharp day on both sides of the ball.

Flacco displayed his strong arm by throwing 45-yard touchdown rainbows to Marcus Maxwell and Marcus Smith, while quarterback John Beck hit Yamon Figurs for a 40-yarder after Figures sped past cornerback Anwar Phillips.

Defensively, safety David Jones, a rookie free agent out of Kentucky, intercepted Troy Smith after Smith's pass tipped off the hands of his receiver over the middle, Lewis and Tavares Gooden sprinted sideline-to-sideline and the defensive line was typically stellar.

All in all, the Ravens believe it was a good way to begin a second consecutive march to the playoffs under Harbaugh.

After making it to the AFC Championship in 2009, the coach doesn't want to change the identity of his team much, no matter how many unfamiliar faces fill the locker room.

"They've still got black helmets with the big Raven on the side, so we're still the Ravens, right?" Harbaugh asked. "We're always trying to get better. I think even with the guys who have been here in the past, we see differences. Individual players have improved; the scheme has improved. And then adding the new faces is exciting. It's fun to watch the draft picks and the guys we signed.

"It all goes together."

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