The Ravens' countdown to training camp hit a few unexpected snags yesterday.
As their four-day passing camp opened, the arrival of veteran quarterback Randall Cunningham was tainted somewhat by the absences of three Ravens leaders - middle linebacker Ray Lewis, safety Rod Woodson and tight end Shannon Sharpe.
Although none of the three broke any rules because it's a voluntary camp, the Ravens expressed most of their disappointment privately. But publicly, the coaching staff and players stuck to a non-threatening party line concerning their only no-shows.
"We'd like to have everybody here," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "We got most everybody here and we've communicated with everybody. They'll start to filter their way in. Yeah, I'd like to have everybody here, but this is a voluntary environment.
"The individuals involved in particular are disciplined veterans that know what it takes in the off-season to get into shape. I have no question about their being in shape. You'd like to have them around, and the exposure to Elvis [Grbac, new starting quarterback] in particular would be important. But we'll get done what we need to get done over the next two weeks."
The Ravens expect Woodson and Lewis to work out with the team today. Sharpe, though, probably will not report until next week's mandatory veterans camp due to personal reasons.
The team is cautious about repeating last week's incident in Indianapolis, where Colts quarterback Peyton Manning criticized Pro Bowl running back Edgerrin James for skipping a camp. Facing a similar situation, Grbac said he isn't fazed about Sharpe missing his second straight passing camp.
"We've got time," Grbac said. "With the tight end position, you've only got a certain number of routes that you're going to run. The timing and rhythm for a quarterback and receiver is a little more demanding than it is with a tight end and quarterback.
"I know one thing that will happen is that we'll hook up in veterans camp and training camp. We'll be fine for the season."
Downplaying the absences, the Ravens directed their energy to welcoming Cunningham, their No. 3 quarterback. It was a casual first practice for the 38-year-old veteran, who spent most of the day dealing with paperwork rather than the playbook.
After taking a physical and signing a one-year contract, Cunningham made the last half of practice but threw no passes.
"It was late," he said. "Brian didn't push me to get in there, and I didn't want to pull a muscle on the first day."
Billick indicated that Cunningham will be eased into the workouts and should be taking some legitimate team reps by the veterans camp next Monday. Cunningham tried to speed up the process by spending the afternoon talking with offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh.
Cunningham's accelerated learning curve comes from his ties with the Ravens.
He was backed up by Cavanaugh for four seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles in the late 1980s and played under Billick only three years ago with the Minnesota Vikings. In 1998, Cunningham was the NFL's MVP with Billick as his offensive coordinator, helping the Vikings score an NFL-record 556 points.
"It's pretty amazing that it's the same stuff we ran in Minnesota with a couple of little things added, but not much," Cunningham said. "I could step in the huddle right now and basically run everything."
NOTES: The Ravens increased their roster to 81 players by signing quarterback Deontey Kenner (University of Cincinnati) and punter Noel Prefontaine, a three-year CFL veteran who played for the XFL champion Los Angeles Xtreme. ... Since the Ravens will only carry four quarterbacks into training camp, they will have to decide whether they'll bring Kenner or Ortege Jenkins, an undrafted rookie free agent out of the University of Arizona, to Western Maryland College. ... The Ravens have ended attempts to set up a scrimmage with the Washington Redskins for this year's training camp. Instead, the team will hold an intrasquad scrimmage on Aug. 3 at Western Maryland. ... Neil Cornrich, the agent for Kim Herring, said the former Ravens safety is trying to work his schedule to come back and attend the team's White House visit and ring ceremony.