Globe NFL writer Albert Breer is touring select training camps around the East Coast, and will report from each one he visits. To review his previous reports, check out his training camp tour page.
The Ravens have staged training camp at McDaniel College in Westminster, 20 minutes from their Owings Mills facility, prior to each of their 15 seasons, carrying over the traditional site from the old Baltimore Colts. And even as it becomes harder to move a whole football operation off-site, don’t expect the Ravens to move this thing any time soon.
Owner Steve Biscotti used to make the trek to McDaniel as a kid to see his beloved Colts, and having coming from humble beginnings, he knows how camp can be a conduit to all fans for a team. His memories of McDaniel, and the lack of room for fans to park in Owings Mills, will likely keep the team on this Maryland countryside campus for years to come.
This, to Biscotti, has become where the Ravens connect with their people. Ed Reed and Ray Lewis often spend 45 minutes signing for kids, and the team’s new policy to make autograph areas for those 15-and-under has been a roaring success. “This is fantastic,” said coach John Harbaugh. “There are kids out here everywhere.” Pretty cool scene overall, with the team lodged at the nearby Best Western.
THREE THINGS TO SORT OUT
The injuries: The Ravens’ secondary dealt with injuries a year ago. So it’s not like this is uncharted territory. But this early? Corner Fabian Washington, coming off a torn ACL, returned earlier this week, and the hope is bookend Lardarius Webb, who also tore an ACL in 2009, can return for Week 1. Though just as those guys were on the mend, Domonique Foxworth blew out, yes, an ACL last week. On top of that, All-Pro safety Ed Reed could miss the first six weeks of the season on the PUP list. All this will test a stellar front seven. In the end, though, if Webb, Washington and Reed can come back strong, it’s possible all this becomes a rallying point for Baltimore.
The pass rush: Baltimore’s defense was just fine last year, but the pass rush – with Rex Ryan gone to New York – was just so-so. Rookie Sergio Kindle was expected to help here, but a fractured skull suffered off the field will delay any contribution the team gets from him. That means the answers will have to come from within, and the best place to look might be at the $63 million man, Terrell Suggs. Suggs was just so-so last year after signing his big deal, and has dropped 20 pounds, getting down to 263, to gain back some quickness. The defense was a bit more vanilla under Greg Mattison than it was with Ryan, and the team’s ability to be more creative with blitzing could be limited by the secondary. So there’s plenty on Suggs here.
Fitting the weapons: Anquan Boldin and Donte’ Stallworth come in, and rookie tight ends Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson were drafted to give Joe Flacco more options, but things still revolve around diminutive dynamo Ray Rice. Rice totaled more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage last year, caught 78 balls and got stronger as the year went on. So the question becomes how Baltimore and Flacco build up in concert with maintaining the team’s smashmouth identity. “No matter what we do, we’re gonna be physical,” Flacco reasoned. “Whether it’s running the ball, throwing the ball, it all starts with our offensive line. And no matter what they’re doing, whether they’re run blocking, pass blocking, they have to be physical.” It’ll be interesting to see the push and pull here.
TYING IN THE PATRIOTS
The idea that Reed will sit out the first six weeks isn’t quite set in stone yet, though it seems likely. If he can’t go, the Patriots should have more of a chance to spread the Ravens out and take advantage of a depth-depleted secondary, which is something New England did in the regular season last year. But the Ravens do seriously believe that the early trials they’ll face because of the injuries will make them tougher, which (as the Patriots can attest) was the case with last year’s club being primed for the playoffs. “To lose someone like Dominique Foxworth and have to wait for a guy like Ed Reed, it brings other guys up and their intensity in the practice,” Pro Bowl nose tackle Haloti Ngata said. “They have to be more intense and more focused.”
THE QUOTE THAT CAPTURES
“We feel like we’re gonna get to the playoffs. We gotta go out and play and we understand what it takes to get to the playoffs. We’re not saying we’re just gonna get there, but we definitely feel like we have the team to get there and the work ethic and the talent to get there. And once you get there, you gotta be healthy, you gotta be strong, you gotta be physical and you really have to be willing to put your helmet on.”
— QB Joe Flacco
Ever feel like throwing a punch at your windshield? Last night, I left Colts camp at about 10:30 p.m. With any luck, I’d make the trip from Anderson Univ. to the Airport Courtyard in 45 minutes, and be in bed by 11:30 p.m. for a 6:05 a.m. flight. Yeah. Right. About 4 miles from the junction of I-69 and I-465, traffic came to a standstill. We inched forward no faster than you could’ve walked the distance. This continued for about 2 miles. Finally, I saw what was wrong – Predictably, it was an accident. Only the accident was mostly cleaned up, and people were simply jamming on the brakes to crane their necks and check out the damage. No reason at all for all that traffic, particularly not that late at night, so people could “see what happened”. I got to bed to 12:45 a.m., woke up at 4 a.m., and I feel less than terrific.
THE GUY TO WATCH
S Tom Zbikowski — He stepped in and started four games as a rookie last year in Reed’s place, and looks ready to make a leap at his position. Zbikowski lost 15 pounds this offseason, and did boxing and plyometrics training to try and shed his in-the-box safety reputation. He’s not Reed, but his development figures to mitigate the All-Pro’s potential absence. The real challenge might be finding a way to deploy safeties when Reed is back on the field, with Dawan Landry also in the mix.
Early impressions have been on the rookie Dickson. Todd Heap’s not quite what he once was in the passing game, and Dickson could well provide a threat down the seam that keeps safeties from creeping in the box to stop the run. … Flacco and Boldin spent time together at the facility from mid-June to mid-July – typically the NFL’s dead period – to get their timing set for camp. Boldin seems reenergized in his new home, with something to prove. “You got a bunch of hard-working guys, hard-nosed guys that don’t really care about the glory, just want to go out and win football games,” Boldin said. “I think it fits me perfectly.” … Stallworth looks smooth and explosive, and still has that gear that few others in the game have. Look for him to contribute in the return game. … Here’s one place you might not expect to find pass-rush help: Ngata. The big nose tackle spent the offseason looking at tape on big, penetrating types like Albert Haynesworth and Shaun Rogers to try and improve in getting upfield and to the quarterback.