Ravens coach Brian Billick completed what he termed a "pre-training camp" phase yesterday by putting his players through a two-hour, 15-minute practice on the most oppressive morning since camp convened Thursday.
The Ravens worked on their basic offense. They worked on their two-minute offense. They worked with their backs to their own goal line. Billick said the team went through more offensive plays than it had in any of the previous four workouts. All of which was designed to give them a taste of what's to come.
The players were given last night and today off -- the first of four consecutive Sundays off -- and told that camp will shift into a more urgent gear starting tomorrow morning.
"These past five practices are a bonus. As odd as it sounds, camp really begins Monday morning," Billick said. "We'll start moving into an evaluation phase next week. We pressed them through some things [yesterday] that made a point of challenging them to maintain their attention to detail. Today's practice was designed to be long and arduous. And the weather accommodated me."
The weather, featuring temperatures in the mid-90s, high humidity and no cloud cover, left players looking miserable as they walked slowly off the Western Maryland College field.
"This is a wake-up call," said tight end Aaron Pierce, who has not played since 1997. "I knew it was going to be hot. I knew it was going to be tough. But until you feel it, you just don't know.
"We're getting a little more time off here than in most training camps, but no one is walking off the field saying, `Man, that was easy.' "
That included running back Priest Holmes. After Friday morning's workout in 90-degree heat, Holmes dropped 10 pounds to 193. He was suffering from serious dehydration, which fueled cramps in his back and calves. Holmes had gained back the weight by yesterday morning.
"The trainers got me a few IV bags in my arm. I rested for an hour, then ate four small meals over the rest of the day [on Friday]," Holmes said. "I'm no stranger to heat. This is a real good indication of how hot it can get."
Holmes described the disorienting effects of the dog days of summer.
"Sometimes a play will get called [by the quarterback] and you only hear part of it. You have to look at the fullback and say, `What did he just say?'
"Cramps and dizziness are there. But you have to push through it. You have to be accountable to the rest of the guys. You can't make them take [extra] reps, because they are going through the same thing."
Cornerback John Williams, shipped over to a foreign land to play with a bunch of less than NFL-caliber players in what was supposed to be his time away from football this summer, couldn't have prayed for a better result, both in his professional and personal life.
First, professionally. In the span of about three months, the ordained baptist minister Williams went from almost being cut by the NFL Europe's Berlin Thunder, to starting, to then becoming a leader on the team.
More importantly, he learned how to player better man-to-man defense, which should help him compete for a position in the Ravens' nickel defense. He already is one of the Ravens' premier special teams players, finishing second on the team in tackles last season.
"Going there [Berlin] was probably the best thing I can do being a second-year player and not getting a lot of work at cornerback," Williams said. "It was a big chance to show myself in a game and better myself as a defensive player."
On the personal side, he also met and married his wife during his time in Berlin.
"She's still in Germany now," Williams said. "It didn't take me long to know that she was my wife. It was three months before we got married. I thank God for that experience because everything went really well."
Trying out again
Even though wide receiver Floyd Turner caught five touchdown passes last season and was second on the team in receiving with more than 500 yards, he knows he is no longer under the eye of former Raven's coach Ted Marchibroda, who also coached Turner in Indianapolis. That puts his job in jeopardy.
With the new offense installed by Billick, Turner's spot is not assured on a team that has brought in nine other receivers to camp. Still, Turner has been impressive. And his 10 years in the league give him an advantage over a younger receiving corps.
"The competition is there, it is just a matter of staying consistent and getting the job done," Turner said.
"I feel like I'm in just as good of shape as have been before. It is just a matter of getting the system down. I played in Marchibroda's system for a while so I understood it. Once I understand what he [Billick] wants in his system, I think it will be better."
Who is that Moore?
Is that safety Stevon Moore, the 11-year veteran who is trying to win back a starting job taken by third-year man Kim Herring? Or is that Stevon Moore, the young hitter trying to make a good impression on his new coaches?