Billick not pleased with uninspired effort
This is the ninth in a series of postcards Sports Illustrated's Peter King will e-mail from his annual NFL training camp tour.
Monday, Aug. 6
Team: Baltimore Ravens
Site: The sun-soaked broiler of Western Maryland College in Westminster, Md., 31 miles northeast of Baltimore. The players practice on the WMC fields, then stay in a Best Western neighbored by cornfields. A cute, old-time training camp, one where the fans can get nearly as close to the players as the media do. I was standing with 100 or so fans 20 minutes before the 8:45 a.m. Twenty feet away, sitting just outside the college gym and locker room, was a T-shirted Tony Siragusa, who, predictably, was waiting for the last possible moment to put on his shoulder pads and practice jersey. He saw me. "HEY EVERYBODY!" he yelled to the crowd. "SEE THAT GUY OVER THERE? IT'S PETER KING! WRITES FOR SPORTS ILLUSTRATED! YOU KNOW HIM! GO SEE HIM AND HE CAN GET YOU IN THE MAGAZINE!" Much laughter, even from me.
Five observations from practice that you just can't get anywhere else:
1. I saw a player practice in his sleep Monday morning. The first offensive drill of the day featured the screen pass. On the first one run by the first-team offense, Jamal Lewis had a perfect pass hit him in the face mask. On the second, Lewis dropped a ball that hit him right in the hands.
2. Interesting practice Monday morning. Light. Little intensity. No tackling, and barely any hitting. It was a hot day, but the session seemed lackadaisical, almost businesslike. There's a fine line between hitting too much -- which maybe the Denver Broncos did last week, when I saw them three times -- and the light effort I saw in Maryland.
3. Head coach Brian Billick is as involved in coaching as any of the nine head coaches I've seen in action this summer. And he let his players know what he thought of the practice afterward. It was much like my aforementioned assessment. "Pathetic. Terrible. It's times like these you wish you had a Harley," he said. I think that was a reference to Marty Mornhinweg, the head coach of the Lions who cut short a late-July practice session and departed from camp on his motorcycle.
4. Defensive end Rob Burnett was out with pink eye. Interesting. And they kept him away from the team because it can be contagious.
5. I really liked the way Elvis Grbac threw the ball, crisp and accurate. He's going to play great in this system. But you know who else looked good, with a surprisingly strong arm? Nineteenth-string quarterback Tim Hasselbeck. He zips it pretty good, too, with accuracy.
Opinion/factoid that might be interesting only to me: Hasselbeck is engaged to Survivor quarterfinalist Elisabeth Filarski. You know, the pigtailed blonde.
Son of factoid: One of the NFL Films cameras following the Ravens around camp was tailing quarterback Ortege Jenkins when he got cut last week -- from the knock on his door by "the Turk", to being told by Billick, to packing, to returning home to Long Beach, Calif. in quasi-shame. Interesting stuff. Interesting, too, how the series is being done. NFL Films has 125 staffers on the project full-time. For each of the shows (airtime is 11 p.m. Wednesday) the staff works from 10 a.m. Tuesday to 3 a.m. Wednesday compiling, cutting, editing and producing the raw copy footage.
The food: I realize I can't be your food critic forever, at least if I keep on like this. But I missed lunch to hang with Brian Billick, so I ate at the nearby Pizza Hut.
Dear NFL Junkie ...
To understand the mentality of the NFL player in the wake of the heat-related death of Minnesota tackle Korey Stringer , let me take you inside the head of Jonathan Ogden, who is the state-of-the-art tackle in football today. Ogden, the 6-foot-9, 348-pound left tackle for Baltimore, was a high school All-American 10 years ago, as was Stringer. Ogden is 27, as was Stringer.
Ogden played in the Pro Bowl last year, as did Stringer. Ogden blocks out the sun, as did Stringer.
As Ogden walked off the Ravens' practice field Monday morning, leaving rivulets of sweat in his wake, I asked him about the impact of Stringer's death.
"I am still shaken by it," he said. "I was shaken by it the day it happened, until I said a prayer for Korey lying in bed that night. I cannot figure it out. It's scary, hard to fathom, freakish. I hope it's once in a lifetime. But I will not live my life scared. I refuse to come out here scared and thinking, 'What if I'm next?' You can't play football that way. Today, once I got down in my stance out there, I was thinking football, not anything else. And the next practice will be exactly the same way."
Stringer died of heat stroke just hours after finishing a training camp practice in Mankato, Minn., on a day the heat index reached 109 degrees. Though the autopsy had not been released as of Monday -- and may never be, unless the Stringer family allows its findings to be publicized -- Stringer's death clearly had roots in severe dehydration. On this day, Ogden drank a bottle of Gatorade and two bottles of water before practice. After practice -- he said he probably lost four or five pounds in the 88-degree heat -- he would drink two bottles of water and a large bottle of Pedialyte, a baby drink full of electrolytes, to replenish the fluids he had lost during practice. And he wondered if last week in Minnesota Stringer had been as concerned about his own fluid replacement.
"Obviously," Ogden said, "there's a lot of talk about how this happened. What I hope didn't happen is Korey trying to drop 20, 25 pounds soon before camp and coming into camp already dehydrated. I really hope that's not it." A few hours after Stringer died, Ogden got a message from his mother on his cell phone. "I just heard about Korey," his mom said. "And I want you to make sure you drink enough. Please!"
Next up: St. Louis