Ravens to begin minicamp on a high

Billick: `We're not done celebrating yet'

Pro Football

April 27, 2001|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens' minicamp will be part reunion, part initiation.

The three-day session, which begins today, marks their first gathering since they captured the Super Bowl and paraded around downtown in military-style Humvees. In the midst of all that reminiscing, the Ravens will catch the first glimpse of their new starting quarterback, Elvis Grbac.

So while the focus may shift to the Ravens' retooled offense, the atmosphere will still have that championship flavor.

"I want it to be a little more relaxed than other minicamps," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We're not done celebrating yet."

There's little resemblance to the Ravens' situation from a year ago, when they had to deal with middle linebacker Ray Lewis' murder trial, defensive tackle Larry Webster's suspension and defensive tackle Tony Siragusa's potential holdout heading into the first minicamp.

Although safety Rod Woodson won't attend this weekend's practices, the tone at this year's minicamp will be set by the additions rather than the deletions. Besides Grbac, the Ravens' offense will welcome right tackle Leon Searcy and the team's top draft choice, tight end Todd Heap.

They are also high on the return of receiver Travis Taylor, the 10th pick in last year's draft. He was limited to nine games after breaking his collarbone and hasn't practiced with the team since October.

The offensive line has a new look as well, with Mike Flynn moving to center and right guard Kipp Vickers moving into the starting lineup.

After completing his first year as a starter in the NFL, Flynn is making the switch from right guard to center, replacing free agent Jeff Mitchell. Vickers, who has eight starts in six seasons, is slated to start in Flynn's old spot at right guard.

But the headliner of this minicamp is Grbac, Billick's fifth starting quarterback here. Grbac has tried to accelerate the learning curve, working on passing drills with offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and receivers such as Brandon Stokley, Patrick Johnson and Marcus Nash for the past week.

The main introduction, however, takes place today.

"I think anytime you come to a new team, the first impression is always the one that lasts with a lot of the guys," Grbac said. "It'll be interesting because what I've heard about the locker room is that they're such a tight-knit group."

Grbac sees a delicate juggling act ahead and wants to first talk to his teammates individually. While he may be an outsider to the others' Super Bowl memories, he has to start putting his fingerprints on the offense and making it his own.

"There's a fine line that you got to be close to. But at the same time, you can't step over that line," Grbac said. "The most important thing right now is that you have to take it in the right direction."

The Ravens' record-setting defense comes back basically intact. The biggest void is at safety, where they will replace both starters this minicamp.

Strong safety Kim Herring signed with the St. Louis Rams in the off-season, and Woodson remains an unrestricted free agent. The Ravens are close to an agreement with the nine-time Pro Bowl performer, primarily working out the language of the deal.

Corey Harris, the team's dime back and kickoff returner, will be promoted to Herring's job, and Anthony Mitchell will fill in at free safety for Woodson. The other beneficiary of increased reps in Woodson's absence will be Gary Baxter, the team's second-round draft pick.

Billick indicated that Woodson will likely rejoin the Ravens in June.

"That's fine," Billick said. "At this point in his career, Rod doesn't need to be here. He's better advised to use that time more wisely elsewhere."

The Ravens have tied up one loose end as return specialist Jermaine Lewis confirmed the restructuring of his contract. Lewis, who mainly fielded punts in his career, said he is also prepared to become the team's kick returner.

"Both of us worked together and came to a mutual agreement," Lewis said of his new deal.

For the rest of the league, minicamp represents moving toward next season. For the Ravens, they've taken a looser approach.

This weekend is about becoming more familiar with Grbac, finding which players are tipping the scales and squeezing out a few extra days of recent glory.

"We still got a little more time to think about last year," left tackle Jonathan Ogden said. "We can reminisce a little bit. It's really about that time to get ready and focus on next season. But until the rings come, it's not over yet."

NOTES: The Ravens received a rookie pool number of $2.83 million, a sum designated by the league. They have to sign all seven of their drafted rookies as well as rookie free agents under the number for the 2001 season, which includes base salary, the pro-rated signing bonus and other likely-to-be-earned income. ... The team could add up to as many as 20 undrafted rookies today.

Ravens schedule

Today-Sunday: Full-team minicamp

May 14-17: Passing camp

June 4-7: Passing camp

June11-14: Veterans camp

July 29-Aug. 23: Training camp

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