TOWSON, Md. -- Joe Flacco rolled out of bed on the Towson University campus early Tuesday morning, piled into his truck with rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith and quarterback Tyrod Taylor and headed to practice. Derrick Mason showed up to the field a few minutes late. College students looked on from class above. There wasn't a coach in sight.
So it might not exactly be the big time, with all the creature comforts the Baltimore Ravens are accustomed to at their sparkling training facility in Owings Mills, but for spring football in a lockout, it will do just fine.
Roughly 25 Ravens -- including many rookies and offensive stars such as Flacco, Mason, Anquan Boldin and Ray Rice -- assembled at Johnny Unitas Field for the first of three days of player-organized workouts. Mason was the driving force behind the sessions, working with officials at the school, which is located a few miles outside of Baltimore. Tuesday's session was the only one open to the media.
"I set this up to see these guys, really," said Mason, one of the Ravens' vocal leaders. "You miss being around the guys."
Mason took a good bit of chiding for being the last player to arrive, getting stuck in traffic. "Good thing Coach (John) Harbaugh isn't here to fine me," Mason jokingly said.
The Ravens spent several hours on the field this morning and then more time lifting together in the afternoon. Route running took up the bulk of the football drills, with this make-shift roster comprised almost exclusively of quarterbacks, wide receivers, running backs and defensive backs. These three days are about much more than doing rudimentary on-field work, however, with the bonding time between veterans and rookies, and the time spent teaching them the offense most imperative, particularly at a time when minicamps, organized team activities and even a normal training camp might be lost.
There is no denying that the NFL lockout will take the biggest toll on the incoming class of players. Normally, they would be spending hours per day huddled with coaches and teammates while systems were being stalled. All of that May and June teaching time has been sacrificed now, and whenever football does resume, it could be with a greatly truncated training camp -- hence the spread of camps like these around the league.
"It hurts, it definitely hurts the rookies," Smith, a second-round draft pick out of Maryland, said about the lockout. "You have to try to make up for it and learn as much as you can from your teammates."
Flacco was enthused by what he saw from rookie receivers Smith and Tandon Doss on Tuesday, excited to finally throw balls to them as they weren't yet drafted at the time of the team's last passing camp, in Arizona.
"To get these guys out here and kind of show them the way a little bit, is a big deal," Flacco said of the time with the rookies.
Rookie running back Anthony Allen, a seventh-round pick out of Georgia Tech, likened the feeling of finally getting on the same field as all of these elite pros to "the first day of high school or college," and said he did feel some nerves at first. (Veteran players are helping pay for some of the rookies to get here; Allen, for instance, said he has $17 in his bank account right now).
"I want to get with Flacco and get with Ray (Rice) and try to get in the playbook and get some simple things down," Allen said.
The veterans are trying to eliminate any uneasiness. They're welcoming the youngsters -- first-round pick Jimmy Smith was the only notable absence -- and trying to make them feel at home. They have brought their playbooks -- Boldin made several photocopies of his, for instance. Flacco is staying with the rookies at a nearby hotel to spend as much time with them as possible, including giving rides to and from practice.
"I'm looking forward to sitting down these guys and getting to coach some," Rice said. "We're going to go over plays and write some things up and just get together on the principles of our offense."
Flacco said he planned for 90 minutes to two hours of teaching time each night with the rookie quarterbacks and receivers. "We're going to go over the basics," he said. "I'm not going to overload them."
Mason said he was hopeful that the eager rookies would spend as much time studying the offense with him as possible. "I'll stay as long as they want," he said. "I don't have anything else to do."
Just being back on the field provided some much-wanted comfort amid all the frustration and emotion of the lockout. Mason noted that he stands by his critical comments about NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from earlier this offseason, saying he would be "a coward" to do otherwise, but said that he knows Goodell wants to get a deal done and hopes it happens soon.
But Mason, the Ravens' player representative, also noted that he believes it could be months before we get a deal.
"I'm an optimistic person ... but we're talking maybe July, and that's a maybe," he said. "Hopefully, we can put everything aside and get a deal, so we don't miss football."
In the meantime, the Ravens are cherishing the simple rituals and familiar sights and sounds of the game (minus the cracking of pads, that is).
"I'm excited to be around all my teammates, and future teammates," said Rice, who was all smiles Tuesday. "It felt good to set my alarm clock for practice."