Postcards from camp: Ravens
SI.com has dispatched 10 writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. For the complete schedule of postcards, click here.
Setting the Scene
I have to admit that after nine years of showing up for Camp Billick at McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., it took me a few minutes Tuesday morning before I stopped scanning the Ravens' practice fields for the tall, talkative guy in the Panama hat. You might have heard, head coach Brian Billick was not asked back for a 10th season in Baltimore, but it's still hard to see the purple-clad Ravens doing their thing without thinking of him and his long, mostly successful tenure with the team.
1. Flacco vs. Smith vs. Boller: It's way early in the Ravens' three-man camp quarterback competition, but it's never too early to start reading the tea leaves. I continue to think second-year man Troy Smith has the inside track on starting for Week 1, but do not discount rookie Joe Flacco's chances to force Baltimore into a tough decision over whether to play him right away. "I want to make it an easy decision, and I want to be the guy,'' Flacco told me Tuesday morning, moments after completing his very first NFL training camp practice. "I don't want to make it a tough decision. I want to make it as easy as possible. I want to go out here and prove that I'm the best and it's clear-cut. Those are my expectations.''
Flacco probably had the roughest practice session of his young Ravens career so far -- offseason workouts included -- on Tuesday, but his arm strength and accuracy are still eye-opening at times. He throws the ball on a line, and his delivery looks effortless.
"What you saw today is the worst he's thrown since he's been here,'' new Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "I think he's a little amped up. He overthrew a bunch of balls on the outside, but those balls had been on the money before today.''
Smith struggled mightily with his accuracy in Tuesday morning's workout, and if there's a knock on him, that's it. As for sixth-year veteran Kyle Boller, he played it safe mostly, dumping the ball off most of the time. Boller seems destined for Baltimore's No. 3 spot, but I still wonder if having Billick's stamp on him is the biggest hurdle he faces within the Ravens organization.
2. Nobody should expect to see Ravens linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs report to Westminister this week. Baltimore franchised Suggs this offseason, assuring him an $8.5 million salary this year, but he has yet to sign the tender because he seeks the assurance the Ravens won't slap him with the same tag again next year.
The consensus within the organization is that Suggs will show in mid-August, most likely in the days just after Baltimore's second preseason game, Aug. 16 at home against Minnesota. That has become pretty standard in the franchise-label stand-off game these days in the NFL. By coming in then, Suggs protects his leverage in the effort to avoid next year's franchise tag, misses those two-a-day practices that veterans detest and still gives himself two weeks of conditioning and practice before the regular season starts and those hefty weekly paychecks begin being cut.
"I'm confident Terrell is going to be here in time to be ready to be effective this year,'' Harbaugh said, declining to guess when Suggs might arrive.
3. The new 80-man training camp roster limit is going to impact the veteran-laden Ravens as much as any other team. Harbaugh told me he's initiating a 30-and-over club during camp, which will give 30-something regulars such as Ray Lewis (33), Trevor Pryce (33 on Aug. 3), Kelly Gregg (31), Derrick Mason (34), Samari Rolle (32 on Aug. 10) and Chris McAllister (31) every third day off from practicing.
"Let's say you have four guys or so who start camp on PUP [the physically unable to perform list], and then when we're practicing without those six veterans we're down to 70 players,'' Harbaugh said. "We're going to be pressed those days. But it's the same for everybody, at least. You really can't complain about it because everybody's got the same problem. But a younger team might have somewhat of an advantage.''