One of the most entertaining parts of Ravens training camp this year has been the "battles" portion of practice.
It's when Head Coach John Harbaugh lines up the entire team behind him and lets two players go at it in a one-on-one matchup in front of everybody. It can be wide receiver vs. cornerback, running back vs. linebacker, pass rusher vs. tackle … you get the idea.
"It has been something that has been around football for a long time, and I think we have done it this year more than we ever have before," Harbaugh said.
"It's been great. I think the fans have really enjoyed it. We have done it at the stadium and at Navy. It gives you a chance to watch one-on-one and evaluate guys in a setting where everybody is watching. It's been good."
The best, depending on how these things are judged, matchup happened during Sunday's practice.
The team was in the middle of "battles" when Harbaugh gave outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith his choice of who he wanted to go against. After much deliberation, Smith called out "the redhead" and pointed at center Ryan Jensen.
Amidst a bunch of cheers and anticipation, the ball was snapped and Smith launched himself into Jensen. Jensen wasn't going to be beaten. No way he was going to allow that to happen.
So what did he do? He grabbed Smith by the facemask and body slammed him to the ground.
Referees' flags came flying and nearly the entire team ran into the mix for a team dogpile.
Now, here's the story behind the story:
Assistant Defensive Line Coach Drew Wilkins put Smith up to calling somebody out, but he told him he should call out newly-signed right tackle Austin Howard, who was in just his second practice.
Only problem was Smith couldn't remember Howard's name.
"I didn't know the new guy's name by heart, and Coach [Harbaugh] was like, 'Who you trying to call out, Z?' I was like, 'Uggghh. I'll just call out red head.'"
So why is Jensen the default? Turns out, Smith and Jensen have a bit of a practice rivalry.
"Since I first got here," Smith said. "Crockett [Gillmore] was the first guy. You remember [former Linebackers Coach] Ted Monachino? He always wanted me to go up against Crockett. But the second guy was Jensen. We've been going at it for three years now."
Jensen corroborated the story.
"Me and him jab at each other a little bit; we're always really competitive with each other," Jensen said with a laugh. "We're both high motor, high energy type guys."
Jensen said he wasn't ticked off about being the guy that was challenged. He wasn't at all surprised.
"I thought it was kind of funny," he said.
So what about that facemask penalty?
"When I got my hands on him, he got off balance a little bit, so I decided to be a little like that," Jensen said.
A little like what?
"Just a little bit of the mean streak side of me, I guess," he said with a grin. "There was nothing meant by it, or the tussle or anything. It was us competing and having some fun out there."
After the melee was broken up, Jensen came over to the linebacker group, gave Smith a bump and a side hug, then went back with the other offensive linemen.
"It's all fun and games. We enjoyed it," Smith said. "It hyped the practice up and everybody had my back on defense."