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Tight Ends Casting Call


Despite having the entire team on-hand for the offseason's first mandatory minicamp, the Ravens were definitely light at one position.

With Todd Heap sitting out Sunday's practice to rest his tender hamstrings, Daniel Wilcox sidelined all weekend while recovering from toe surgery and Quinn Sypniewski ruled out for the entire 2008 campaign because of a freak knee injury, there was somewhat of an open casting call for tight ends.

"We're probably in a tryout-type of a mode right now with a lot of these young guys," said head coach John Harbaugh. "We have a couple of small-school guys who maybe have a chance to develop at some point in time."

Lee Vickers was the top sub after playing key minutes late last season when Heap and Wilcox went down, but he didn't practice all weekend. Jake Nordin would have been another suitable replacement, but he was recently shifted to fullback.

For the rest of the candidates looking to earn a roster spot, tight end presented an unfamiliar role.

The Ravens have used Joe Reitz, who played basketball at Western Michigan for the past four years, Xavier Lee, whose red jersey marks a three-year career as Florida State's quarterback, and even outside linebacker Edgar Jones to fill in.

The only prospect with recent tenure at the position, Louisville undrafted free agent Scott Kuhn, broke his thumb Saturday on a special teams drill.

"No. 1, we're just trying to get through practice," explained tight ends coach Wade Harmon. "But, it's also about trying to find some guys. You never know if you can come across a guy that can play if you give him an opportunity. These camps are a way to see some guys that have some athletic ability."

Reitz hopes he can follow in the footsteps of former Kent State basketball player and current San Diego Chargers Pro Bowler Antonio Gates.

At 6-foot-7, 256 pounds, Reitz has the size to succeed, while his basketball roots offer above-average footwork. He was also a standout football player at Hamilton Southeastern High School in Fishers, Ind.

Rietz's chances of competing, however, rest mainly on learning an offense drastically more intricate than a pick and roll.

"It's definitely more complicated than basketball," Reitz said. "I would say that my head's been spinning with all of this, but I think you could say the same for all the rookies here. It's so in-depth, and the speed of the game overall is super-fast for me.

"It's probably fast for everybody, but remember, I haven't played football for close to five years."

That inexperience showed during his first taste of full-team action. In a new drill used to reduce fumbling, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron had a ball attached to a wide blue rubber band and tied to a goal post. Each player grabbed the ball and ran to a cone placed 5 yards away as the band tugged back.

The only Raven to let it slip was Reitz, who laughed it off by explaining that he picked the football up by the wrong end.

Still, Reitz was surprised to see himself in with the starters after Heap and Wilcox watching from afar during Saturday evening's practice.

"Within the first couple of days, I was actually getting reps with the first-team offense," he said. "It's a tremendous opportunity for me, and I want to take advantage of every chance I get."

Lee has also seen more and more time at tight end than quarterback, ironic considering he left Florida State partly because they wanted to convert his 6-foot-4, 240-pound frame into a tight end.

The Ravens made the change seemingly permanent, as Lee didn't take one snap under center on the last day of camp.

"He was running routes and catching the ball," Harbaugh noted. "He would have a chance, athletically, to play tight end. They were right at Florida State. He could be a heck of a tight end. We've got to talk about it, but he looked pretty good today."

Meanwhile, Jones chuckles at his potentially burgeoning career as a tight end. He said he has attended some of the offensive meetings, but isn't sure what to make of it. Jones saw limited time at tight end during goal line drills Sunday.

"It's fun," said Jones, who was also a tight end in high school. "We'll see what happens. I'd like to catch a touchdown, but I love getting at the quarterback."

The situation has been a challenge for Harmon, but the 10-year Ravens coach has enjoyed molding such young minds. Because Baltimore's current crop of backups are so inexperienced, he's had to boil it down to the basics.

"It helps me refocus my teaching," he stated. "When you've got guys that you've had for a few years, you sometimes don't have to cover some things. It's about starting from square one with a guy that hasn't played the position."

Harmon can take solace in the face that Heap should be full-strength, as the former Pro Bowler was just resting an injury that kept him out of 10 games last season.

"He's just rehabbing those hamstrings," Harbaugh noted. "It's just part of the process. There are certain issues he's got to re-strengthen and certain flexibility issues that he has. We do not want to re-injure that hamstring."

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