Skip to main content

Rookies Ready for Kickoff


The Ravens' rookies are only days away from of their first-ever NFL action.

Not only are they making their debut in purple and black, but they are also doing it against the Super Bowl runner-up New England Patriots and their hostile fans.

Still, the group seems to be handling the specter of playing on such a grand stage in stride.

If anything, the chance to lay their hands on different color jersey is motivation enough to get past any fears.

"You know, it's just the game of football, something I've done since I was 10 years old," said third-round draft pick Tavares Gooden. "I'm tired of hitting the same guys. I want to take the techniques I've learned here to the football field."

The rookies will have every opportunity to show their progress Thursday at Gillette Stadium (7:30 p.m., WBAL-TV, WBAL 1090), where many Ravens starters will likely be held out of action.

Running back Willis McGahee is sidelined with a knee injury, opening up a starting spot for Ray Rice, a second-rounder. Safety Ed Reed is nursing a hurt shoulder back to health, which could promote both Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura.

And, the fact that Mark Clayton (shoulder) will be limited and Demetrius Williams (leg) will not play opens a chance for a trio of rookie receivers - Marcus Smith, Justin Harper and Ernie Wheelwright - to see extended time on the field.

Much of the scrutiny will be on Rice, who has looked sensational in camp carrying the load in McGahee's absence from camp.

The 55th-overall selection from Rutgers dazzled with his hard-nosed style coupled with a touch of breakaway speed.

Head coach John Harbaugh doesn't think Rice will wilt under pressure, especially since the 21-year-old logged a whopping 910 attempts in three collegiate seasons, racking up 4,926 yards and 49 touchdowns.

"He's a rookie, but gosh he's had a lot of carries his whole career," Harbaugh said. "As a running back, he's a veteran. It will be new for him playing against an NFL defense, particularly that defense, and it will be interesting to see how he'll do, but I'd be surprised if he's not up to the task."

Even though Kyle Boller is starting at quarterback, there will also be a lot of eyes on the Ravens' backfield, where first-rounder Joe Flacco, who general manager Ozzie Newsome said was Baltimore's "quarterback of the future," will take his initial snaps.

Considering he earned his stripes as a record-setter at Delaware, of the Football Championship Subdivision, it would be natural for Flacco to feel some trepidation facing Patriots head coach Bill Belichick.

Not so for the 6-foot-6, 230-pound gunslinger. Flacco is eager for his chance under center.

"I'm anxious, and I think most people would be," Flacco noted. "It's the first time you get a chance to step on the field at an NFL level. That's a pretty big step, and it's a pretty big accomplishment. I'm anxious to get it going and just see what it's like.

"My strategy is to go out there and play football the way I know how to and try to become as comfortable as possible with my teammates and with the offense."

Count Harbaugh as another Raven ready to get started. He may have joined the Ravens with 24 years of college and professional coaching experience, but this is his first head coaching job.

Since Harbaugh was hired in January, every meeting, film session and practice has prepared him for kickoff - but even he admits his reactions on game day can't be predicted.

"I expect not to know what to expect and how it's going to be like," Harbaugh said with a smile. "You talk about the rookies and how they're going to respond. I'm interested in how I'm going to respond.

"We'll see how it goes."

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.

Related Content