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Ravens counting on rookies to be ready to contribute

Understand a couple of things about Sergio Kindle.

He's confident. Not obnoxiously brash or unbearably cocky, but confident. Very confident. For instance, Kindle won't hesitate to tell you just how successful he thinks he can be with the Baltimore Ravens this season, his first in the NFL. He says, matter-of-factly, that his "plan is to be Rookie of the Year."

Kindle also is well aware of what's going on around him. Sure, the Ravens made the former Texas outside linebacker/defensive end their top overall draft pick (in the second round) to enhance the side of the ball where they have a rich history of success. Sure, they did the same with their second overall pick (also in the second round), former Alabama tackle Terrence Cody.

Yet, in only a short time with the Ravens, Kindle has a strong grasp of why his team enters training camp on Monday as a popular pick to win the AFC North and be a serious postseason contender.

Baldinger: Rookies can help

The Ravens' top two draft picks -- Sergio Kindle and Terrence Cody -- won't have to start to make an impact. The Ravens will use a lot of players defensively. The better the defense is up front, the better they are in the secondary, where there are lots of question marks despite some veteran additions.

Ray Lewis has always pined for somebody big in the middle of the defense. Kelly Gregg is a phenomenal player, but he's entering his 12th season and has battled injuries. In the Ravens' 3-4 defense, you like to have a nose tackle who can blot out the sun. It looks like Cody is a guy who can take double-teams, eat up space and let the playmakers take over.

Outside of Terrell Suggs, who had a down year, no one has stood out as an outside pass rusher. The defense does a lot of different things to get to the quarterback, and Kindle seems like he has that skill. The more pressure the Ravens can bring, the longer Lewis can play.

-- Brian Baldinger

"With the new offensive weapons, (coach John) Harbaugh and (the rest of the Ravens' brass) put together a total team," Kindle said. "You can't just say we're a defensive team this year. We've got a lot of weapons on offense, so we're going to make it happen."

Two newcomers at wide receiver, Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth, figure to do plenty to help in that regard. So should Derrick Mason, whose decision to stick around for another season gives the Ravens one of the best and deepest receiving corps in the league.

With blossoming Joe Flacco at quarterback and multi-talented Ray Rice in the backfield, the Ravens could, in fact, easily become more of an offensive team.

Of course, in order to go farther than they did last season, the divisional round of the playoffs, the Ravens must be a "total team." In order to do that, they need their defense to live up to its lofty reputation. That means Kindle and Cody must meet, or even exceed, the expectations that go with their draft status. It also means the majority -- if not all -- of the Ravens' remaining five picks will need to make an immediate impact, something many NFL observers are projecting.

The coaching staff certainly had that in mind during offseason workouts.

"You can tell that they want us to get (the mental part down quickly), because they threw us (members of the rookie class) in the fire as soon as we got there," Kindle said. "They want us to try to learn it on the fly as soon as we can and see what we can do. And we did well, in my opinion. Once we get it down, then we really get to show our abilities. When everything slows down, that means we get to speed up."

For Kindle, the greatest challenge is learning the playbook, which is "about as thick as most textbooks you get in college and you've got to study it faithfully because if you don't, it's going to be like a foreign language out there." Given his natural aptitude as a pass rusher, he will devote the lion's share of his attention to pass coverage. Kindle has plenty to learn about pass drops, getting into throwing lanes, and occupying the proper zone.

"That was the hardest part for me, basically knowing what everybody else is doing and that's going to influence exactly what I need to be doing, those open spaces that I need to be in," he said. "That's the hard part, but once I get that down, I feel like it will be a real simple transition from there.

"I'm a confident person. Once I get the playbook down, I feel that I have the talent to go out and perform at a high level and help my team. So, as far as being Rookie of the Year, you have to start and play a whole lot to do so. If the time comes, and I get the playbook down, I'm pretty sure that I can make some type of impact for my team."


» Chris Johnson gets the "Sensibility Award" of the offseason by coming to terms on a deal with the Tennessee Titans that will pay the All-Pro running back $2 million this season. Despite it being well short of the minimum of $30 million in guaranteed money he had insisted was necessary for him to end his contract dispute, the deal is good enough for him to report to their training camp and play this season. His agent is the one who put it together, but Johnson is the one who put aside his pride and ego and took a logical approach to a standoff that once looked hopeless. Hopeless because of the NFL rules that limited how much the Titans could increase Johnson's base salary of $550,000 and Johnson's fixation on becoming one of the NFL's top-paid offensive players.

» I commend the Ravens for instituting their new policy that puts an age parameter (6-15) on autographs at their training camp. Perhaps it isn't popular with all fans, and it might, in fact, lead to diminished crowds at practice. And perhaps professional memorabilia collectors will continue the unsavory practice of paying kids to collect autographs. But there are few uglier scenes in sports than that of a middle-aged man elbowing out a youngster to get a player to sign his football. Some players already try to limit autographs to children, but in the post-practice crush, they sometimes end up obliging men old enough to be their parents. Really? Memo to the rest of the NFL: Follow the Ravens' lead on this one.

» I don't understand all of the fuss over the timing of the release and promotion of Pete Carroll's book, "Winning Forever." I've heard and read critics say that it takes plenty of gall for him to call attention to a literary tribute to his tremendous success at USC on the heels of NCAA sanctions for violations that occurred while he was the Trojans' coach. I've heard at least one long-time league observer say that Carroll should have cancelled his book tour. However, Carroll had no trouble going forth with it, despite the many difficult questions he has faced about USC. And why not? The Seattle Seahawks had no reservations when they hired him as their coach, and will judge him strictly on the merits of how he performs in that job rather than any wrongdoings that happened on his watch in his previous job.

» File this one in the "Safe Bet" folder: Wide receiver Reggie Wayne and defensive end Robert Mathis will report to the Indianapolis Colts' training camp on time. They might want more money, but they won't get it. When Colts president Bill Polian says that neither player is going to see an extra dime, he means it. And they know it.

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