NFL.com has dispatched several writers to report on the 32 training camps over the next few weeks. Aditi Kinkhabwala details her visit with the Baltimore Ravens below. (Click here for the complete archive of Training Camp Reports.)
WHERE IS NFL.COM?
In Owings Mills, Md., at the Ravens' totally manicured, absolutely gorgeous facility. (Putting green and fountain-featuring pond come included.)
1. Something is going on with Joe Flacco and Jim Caldwell. Something good. The quarterback and the new quarterbacks coach are clearly clicking. Maybe it's that they both share easygoing, steady demeanors. Maybe it's Caldwell's attention to minute details and his "knack" -- as offensive coordinator Cam Cameron called it -- for teaching. Regardless, the two are really feeding off each other and Flacco has been enjoying some of the best practices of his career. Receiver Anquan Boldin couldn't have drawn up a better pass than the one Flacco lofted to him in the back left corner of the end zone during a red-zone session Saturday. Granted, it's early, and yes, they're only practicing, but with Flacco coming off a season in which he posted a career-worst 57.6 completion percentage, it is something.
2. Courtney Upshaw is big. So big that a reporter yelped, "He's a rookie?" (Yes, it was a yelp.) With Terrell Suggs sidelined by injury, eyes are certainly on the outside linebacker, a second-round draft pick out of Alabama. And those eyes, well, they're not being disappointed. Upshaw is rangy, he's tough and, like Suggs, he can put his hand on the ground and mix it up. He definitely looks the part of a Ravens linebacker.
3. The Ravens have some kickers (plural). Six months after Billy Cundiff's 32-yard field goal attempt hooked wide left (sending the New England Patriots to the Super Bowl and sending Baltimore home), the Ravens brought rookie Justin Tucker into camp. Tucker, who went 40-for-48 in his last two years as a Texas Longhorn, has a booming leg. Both Tucker and Cundiff were nearly perfect over the first few days of camp, and neither one had trouble nailing kicks from 50-plus yards. Cundiff is one of the league's best kickoff specialists; he's not likely to lose his job. But it's certainly fun to watch the two of them compete.
4. Intrigue abounds at offensive tackle.Bryant McKinnie, last year's starting left tackle, missed the first few days of camp, reportedly blaming a back injury suffered at his South Florida home last week. If McKinnie remains plugged in at left tackle, Michael Oher will be fine at right tackle. But when McKinnie was absent from camp, Oher got a ton of reps on the left side and looked more comfortable than he ever had. Also, John Harbaugh was rotating three young players on the right side.
THE NEW GUYS
Sean Considine and Corey Graham: The free-agent acquisitions have already taken lead roles on special teams. As the personal protector, Considine is running the punt team, a position akin to "hiring a new quarterback," special-teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said. Graham is a physical coverage player and exceptional blocker; Rosburg flat-out said the team is "expecting great things out of him."
Ray Lewis: True, after 16 seasons with the team, he's not really new. But he's super-slimmed down, working at what he said is his lowest playing weight as a professional, and definitely looks like a new version of Ray Lewis. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he didn't necessarily encourage Lewis (or Jameel McClain, who's also slimmer) to drop weight, but he thought "it was a good idea." Don't think skinnier linebackers are a trend yet though, says veteran Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery: "It's still about mismatches. As a receiver, you see a linebacker and you think, 'mismatch' -- no matter what he looks like."
"Better? Physical? Make any tackles?"
-- Linebackers coach Ted Monachino, on the sidelines, to Paul Kruger, who is playing outside linebacker and doing his best to approximate Suggs. (Or at least hold things down until Suggs gets back.)
Whatever Kruger's answer was, Monachino responded loudly, "Good!"
- Danny Cameron is in the midst of a dream summer camp. The high-school junior (and son of Cam Cameron) was on the field Saturday during the quarterback drills, DOING the quarterback drills. That's right: the lineup consisted of Flacco, Curtis Painter, Tyrod Taylor, John Brantley and the starting quarterback of Loyola High School.
- There's a reason Harbaugh doesn't look 49. (His 50th birthday is Sept. 23, the day the New England Patriots come to town for a rematch of the AFC title game. Easy to guess what's on the top of his gift list ...) After a two-and-a-half hour practice Saturday, with the sun blazing down on the field and the temperature soaring well into the 90s, Harbaugh joined former Baltimore cop and current Ravens security official Craig Singleterry for sprints. Run the length of the football field, walk half the width, run the length again. He did a half dozen reps, and while there was definitely sweat, he didn't appear to be breathing hard.
- The Ravens have a lot of leaders on offense. Ray Rice has his fat new contract, and is still the same happy, living-the-dream person he was in college. And is also a veritable leader. So too are Flacco, Oher, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Vonta Leach, Anquan Boldin and Matt Birk -- all of whom Cameron named while saying this is "the best leadership" he's had in his meeting room.
In the Ravens' very first padded practice Saturday, Rice seemed to go down, made a second effort and got another three yards. Cameron sent a series of receivers downfield -- and they almost all caught balls thrown their way. Flacco was again sharp, and this offense clearly thinks it has the parts to be a top-five unit (the Ravens were 19th in passing last year). As early as it is, that doesn't sound ludicrous. The defense does have a new coordinator and will be missing Suggs (torn Achilles tendon) for much of the season, but this is the Ravens: Their defense is always smash-mouth tough.