Postcard from camp: Ravens
Domonique Foxworth's injury has unemployed CBs burning up Ravens phone lines
Safety Tom Zbikowski will be in the spotlight with Ed Reed out indefinitely
Free agent acquisition Anquan Boldin has impressed with extra work
SI.com has dispatched writers to report on the 32 NFL training camps across the country. Here's what Don Banks had to say about the Ravens camp in Westminster, Md. For an archive of all camp postcards, click here.
The weather in Westminster, Md., where the Ravens conduct camp at picturesque McDaniel College, is usually quite hot and sticky. But not Friday, which featured low humidity, warm but not stifling temperatures and a nice little breeze at times for the first full-squad, full-pads practice of Baltimore's camp. Quite a difference from the muggy conditions that prevailed Thursday at Redskins camp in Ashburn, Va. Maybe Super Bowl contenders get that kind of break on weather, and also-rans don't.
1. So much for a stress-free ride on the Super Bowl Express in Baltimore. As I sat and chatted with Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome in his office at the Best Western Hotel after lunch on Friday, he was only taking a short break from the phone calls that just keep pouring in in the wake of the news that starting Baltimore cornerback Domonique Foxworth has been lost for the season with a torn ACL. The injury was suffered Thursday in a non-contact situation, when the sixth-year veteran merely changed directions while running.
"I'm getting called by every agent who has a cornerback who has played in the league in the last five years,'' Newsome said, a slightly bemused look on his face. "I just had one general manager in the league call and say 'There's always a virus at one position. Always.' ''
Losing Foxworth undoubtedly hurts the Ravens, because if there were a position that already kept Newsome and head coach John Harbaugh up at nights, it would be cornerback. It hurts Baltimore all the more given that fellow corners Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb are both coming off ACL surgeries, with the Ravens planning to go slowly with them this preseason in the hopes of having them ready for Week 1 against the Jets.
I don't think the Ravens will overreact to the loss of Foxworth, but look for them to add a body or two at the position in the next day or so, if only to help manage the workload in camp. Three off-the-top-of-the-head names that were tossed out to me by Harbaugh on Friday were ex-Redskin Fred Smoot, ex-Raven Frank Walker and ex-Lion Anthony Henry. Baltimore also recently added 15-year veteran cornerback Walt Harris and he'll see plenty of playing time this preseason.
But most of those measures will be of the stop-gap variety. The key for the regular season will be how well Webb and Washington continue to recover and how much they can contribute, starting in September. At the moment, Chris Carr, Travis Fisher and Harris are the Ravens top three cornerbacks. If there's a silver lining to Baltimore's situation, it's that the moment is still unfolding in late July.
2. Here's how the Ravens look at rookie second-round linebacker Sergio Kindle at this point: If he's active and on the team's 53-man roster at any point this season, it's gravy. Kindle, the team's top pick, suffered a fractured skull last week when he fell down two flights of stairs in the dark at a friend's house. He remains hospitalized in Austin, Texas, with concussion-like symptoms and swelling.
Sources within the Ravens organization don't seem to be buying the notion that the medication Kindle takes for narcolepsy might have played a role in Kindle's fall, as Kindle's former college coach, Texas's Mack Brown, suggested Thursday. Said one: "Brown is doing what a good parent might do in that situation [by offering a plausible explanation for the accident]. But we were well aware of the narcolepsy and it came up in the draft scouting process.''
3. I don't think we're going to see Ed Reed playing football any time soon. Not a news flash, I know, but it seems like there's plenty of people here who think it'll be at least mid-October before Reed is recovered enough from major hip surgery to get on the field. Reed is on the physically unable to perform list to start camp, and he worked off by himself on a side field Friday morning. He's almost certain to miss the entire preseason, and he may start the regular season on the Reserve PUP, meaning he'll be ineligible to play the first six weeks of the season.
As if the Ravens secondary doesn't have enough challenges about now, Reed's absence leaves third-year veteran Tom Zbikowski as the team's likely starting free safety to open the season. Veteran safety Ken Hamlin just arrived not long ago and is still learning the Ravens system, and reserve safety Haruki Nakamura is coming off a broken leg, suffered last season. The Ravens have confidence in Zbikowski, and he has played well at times, picking off two passes last year. But he's not Reed, and the more you play him, the more you increase the likelihood of him being exposed.
The Ravens are going to be patient with Reed and let him dictate what he's ready for. They're counting on his well-known competitiveness to help him defy the expectations of his recovery time and get him back in the lineup sooner than later.
The people who matter in Baltimore couldn't be more pleased with what they've gotten so far from receiver Anquan Boldin, the team's centerpiece acquisition of the offseason. Newsome told me Boldin was at the team complex working out even on days he wasn't supposed to be, and said the ex-Cardinal is "a better person and better leader'' than even he realized.
Newsome, a Hall of Fame tight end, also raved over Boldin's hands. "He's got as good a pair of hands as I've seen in a long time,'' Newsome said. "And that's saying a lot for me. He can really catch the ball, and he's going to be able to get us some additional yards after the catch.''
I thought the Ravens had a great draft this year, and then Kindle falls down some stairs last week, all but ruining his rookie season, and fellow second-rounder Terrence Cody, the ex-Alabama defensive tackle, wasn't able to start camp earlier this week because he failed the team's conditioning test (pulled a Haynesworth, he did).
But Cody did get over that particular hurdle Wednesday and has been on the field the past two days practicing. He looked OK to me Friday, although he's still a very large presence out there at a listed 349 pounds. The Ravens don't get surprised by much, and Cody's weight issues were well known, so it's wasn't hard to predict that he might not be ready from day one.
But from what I understand, he was in pretty good shape when the team's organized offseason workouts ended in mid-June, and then proceeded to put on 20 pounds or so before reporting to camp this week. Some of that's come off already, but not all of it. And the battle of the bulge figures to be somewhat of a near-constant for Cody early in his NFL career.
Football is for the tough guys in this world. I got that lesson reinforced while watching Ravens running back Willis McGahee come off the field in obvious pain midway through the morning workout. When he was asked about McGahee's injury, Harbaugh casually responded: "McGahee lost a tooth. He lost a tooth.''
Ouch. That'll ruin your lunch.
1. As a member of the NFLPA's executive committee, Foxworth has been very involved in the union's preparation for next year's looming labor showdown in the NFL. I wondered aloud to Harbaugh if Foxworth's season-ending knee injury would give him time to focus more on his NFLPA duties, or take him off the radar screen in a sense?
"Good, maybe he can handle the negotiations now and get a deal done,'' said Harbaugh, with a laugh. "That would help.''
2. Don't go counting out incumbent Billy Cundiff in the two-man Ravens kicking battle. Baltimore signed ex-Bengal Shayne Graham in June, but it's a legit competition and Graham is going to have to earn the job. He won't win it on reputation alone. Speaking of which, I saw Graham shank one field goal attempt Friday that almost picked off Newsome at the water dispenser. It was a bit too reminiscent of the two critical field goals that Graham missed in the Bengals' home-field, first-round playoff loss to the Jets.
3. Second-year man Michael Oher and fourth-year vet Jared Gaither are ostensibly both in the mix for the starting left offensive tackle slot, but I believe it's Oher's job to lose. The Ravens entertained trade offers for Gaither this offseason and don't think he has learned to work as hard or be as consistent in his play as necessary. Still, having two quality young options at one of the game's most pivotal positions isn't a bad problem to have these days. The only starter on the offensive line older than 26 is center Matt Birk, the 13-year veteran.
4. I liked what I saw of Ravens rookie Dennis Pitta, a pass-catching tight end out of BYU. The fourth-round pick has soft hands, and team sources say he has deceptive yards after catch ability, with a good understanding of pass routes. He's an "old'' rookie at 25, like a lot of ex-BYU players who have served a stint on a Mormon mission. But the team sees that as a benefit because of his increased maturity level.
5. Can't remember a Ravens team ever having this many offensive weapons. Had to make sure I was in Baltimore's camp for a minute there. When I talked to third-year running back Ray Rice, he was almost salivating for the chance to see how Baltimore offensive coordinator Cam Cameron uses all the team's skill players. But the reality is the Ravens may have to out-slug opponents early in the season until their secondary gets healthier.
"I do think we can be special,'' Rice said. "I can feel it. I feel great about our offense, and I feel good about our opportunity. Because of Boldin, Donte' Stallworth and [Derrick] Mason, and the weapons we have, the way we can open our passing game up. Everything doesn't rely on me or running the ball. I sort of feel like it's pick your poison. It's a great feeling to know we have that capability.''
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