Ravens loose, confident on Day One

Receiver Johnson expresses consensus: `We expect to win'

Ravens Training Camp

July 31, 2004|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The fervent crowd of 6,783 that flocked yesterday to McDaniel College - a record for the first day of Ravens training camp - left with some familiar snapshots.

There was Jamal Lewis running through holes with authority. There was a laser-quick defense flying to every ball. And there was still-developing quarterback Kyle Boller fighting through growing pains.

Still, the lasting impression was the relaxed tone in a camp filled with high expectations, which is a sign of an experienced team, as well as a confident one.

Players jokingly hit up coach Brian Billick for loans, playing on his new, big-money contract, and they cracked that the worst injury sustained was a blood blister on Boller's hand, a result of signing too many autographs.

"We don't hope to win. We expect to win," said receiver Kevin Johnson, who played on losing teams in four of his five seasons in the NFL. "Some teams just think about the playoffs, but this team expects to win the Super Bowl. You have to be excited about the energy and atmosphere."

Most fans focused their attention on Boller to rate his progress from his rookie season, and left with mixed reviews.

In one drill, he perfectly floated a 40-yard pass to Randy Hymes down the right sideline for a touchdown. In a later one, he failed to loft a throw high enough to an open, 6-foot-5 tight end Todd Heap and was intercepted by 5-9 safety Chad Williams.

When asked to compare Boller yesterday to a year ago, linebacker Ray Lewis said, "I really couldn't tell you. I really couldn't. It's really hard to evaluate anybody on the first day."

There was no such uncertainty with Billick.

"Those that chose to comment on what kind of team we are and the odds that we have going into the Super Bowl, the only qualifier that anyone will throw out there is the question at quarterback. We don't have those hesitations," Billick said.

"Clearly, there is a learning curve for Kyle, but he is a quick study. ... As I said, the only things you can call your own are your mistakes. He's got a lot of mistakes to make, but the good thing about Kyle is that he tends not to make them twice."

The biggest positive in Boller's development is Jamal Lewis. The All-Pro running back reported to camp in better shape than last season, when he ran for the second-most yards in NFL history (2,066).

The only question is his pending trial, which could come during the regular season or beyond. Lewis was indicted on federal drug conspiracy charges in February.

If he stands trial during the season and misses practices during the week, Lewis said he nevertheless wants to start. The Ravens play all but one game on Sunday.

"Playing running back is not like playing defense," Lewis said. "I run the same plays every week. The only thing that changes is the defenses. I just got to know what gap to go through and what my reads are. I just have to hit them and go."

Billick said earlier in the week that Lewis would not play in that scenario. But he was more vague on the issue yesterday.

"We'll wait and see until we have to cross that bridge," Billick said. "We'll see what it is. We have a plan for it. It may not come up. If it does, we'll deal with it."

The Ravens' defense had to deal with a couple of absent starters, but they expect cornerback Chris McAlister (contract dispute) and linebacker Peter Boulware (knee injury) to re-join them at some point this season.

Nevertheless, the defense asserted itself yesterday with deflected passes and its ability to swarm to the ball. Those attributes allowed them to lead the NFL in fewest yards per play (4.4) and sacks (47) last season.

This year, the goal is clear cut: improve from being No. 6 in the NFL in points allowed.

"The most important thing to us is to be No. 1 in scoring defense," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "That's got to be the ticket. That's what tells you who is No. 1."

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