Ravens moving forward by going back to the basics

New setup, young players combine for a minicamp that's sloppy yet beneficial

Pro Football

April 29, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

While most NFL teams were wrapping up minicamp, the Ravens were finishing up basic training.

Under a steady downpour yesterday, the Ravens' coaching staff continued its hands-on approach until the final drill in what was considered a ragged yet productive series of workouts. Through the fumbles and blown assignments, the team was able to install 40 percent of the offense while keeping the defense relatively simple.

"I think we probably got as much done this minicamp as we did at last year's minicamp," coach Brian Billick said. "It probably wasn't as smooth. But I'm encouraged."

It's the typical learning curve for a team that has 46 players under the age of 24.

The highlights were the increasing maturity of new starting quarterback Chris Redman, the consistent determination of running back Jamal Lewis coming off his knee injury and the growing confidence of free safety Ed Reed, the team's first-round draft pick.

The lowlights were fumbled snaps and handoffs, dropped passes and embarrassing lapses in communication.

There were instances when the offense lined up with just four linemen and the defense had a couple of extra linebackers. It wasn't unusual to hear coaches instructing players where to stand at the line of scrimmage or for them to hear their questions answered with blank stares.

But the Ravens still managed to make headway on offense by touching upon route combinations, run blocking and pass protection.

"I think we had a good attitude that it was going to be a teaching camp," Redman said. "But we can't stop here."

Redman already is finding a comfort level on the field and in the locker room.

He appeared to become more relaxed on his throws as minicamp progressed and was a magnet off the field. Between practices on Saturday, he was sitting at his locker with five players surrounding him.

"You can clearly see that Chris has taken control of the offense," Billick said. "They're looking for him to take that direction."

The offense received an additional boost from Lewis, who is coming off major knee surgery.

Lewis impressed the team by participating in more drills than expected. He finished all four practices in minicamp despite running and walking with a limp.

"This was a test for me to see where I am and how far I've got to go," Lewis said. "It's not far. I just have to pick up my speed, lose a little weight and I'll be all right.

"I don't have to be ready until September. I will be 100 percent."

Defensively, there was steady progress made with Reed, the 24th overall selection in last weekend's draft.

A four-year starter at the University of Miami, Reed isn't used to learning a new system. But he became increasingly vocal once he began understanding the different assignments.

"The first day was hard for me," Reed said. "I really didn't know what I was doing. I wasn't communicating. I didn't want to say anything because I wasn't sure. The second day, I got rolling. I finished up camp pretty good. I feel like I made progress."

The next lesson comes May 20, when the players report back to the Owings Mills practice complex for a passing camp.

"We made progress, but we've still got a long way to go," Redman said. "I think everybody on the team has to improve on their mistakes and keep moving on."

NOTES: Not playing in a West Coast offense for the first time in his career, backup quarterback Jeff Blake seemed upbeat after his first practices with the Ravens. "My first three days were great," said Blake, who signed five days ago. "At this moment, my main goal is to master the offense that I have now. Once I do that, it's all downhill from there." ...

The Ravens seem to be making a smooth transition to their new 3-4 defense. "It's going to be fun, especially for the linebackers," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "But 75 percent of the things we did last year, we're going to be doing this year. It's just different fronts." ...

Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister acknowledged it was a different atmosphere without fellow cornerback and friend Duane Starks, who signed with the Arizona Cardinals in the off-season. "I hate to see him go," McAlister said. "I never thought this day would come. There was a lot of talk about them keeping us two together and try to build the future of this team. But it's a business." ... The Ravens' training camp is scheduled to open July 26.

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