Summer school

In his first practice as a Raven, QB Steve McNair struggles a bit with new playbook, urges patience

New offense challenges McNair

June 14, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

By the end of his first Ravens practice, Steve McNair admitted to feeling more like a rookie than a Pro Bowl quarterback.

It was a new uniform, a new playbook, a new beginning.

On a day marked by as much confusion as excitement, McNair even thinks he used a call from the Tennessee Titans' playbook during one of yesterday's drills.

"I told the guys just be patient," McNair said.

If anything was revealed from his first workout, it was the magnitude of the challenge lying before McNair and the Ravens.

McNair, who was traded from the Titans on Thursday in exchange for a fourth-round pick, needs to gain command of the Ravens' offensive system in three months. He officially took his first step yesterday, even though he might not know what direction it was in.

"It's mind-boggling right now," said McNair, whose first and only minicamp wraps up tomorrow. "It's like starting all over again."

With the Ravens' playbook in hand for just four days, McNair ran the first-team offense for most of the practice with mixed results.

There were times when his throws were low or behind receivers. His first pass in team drills was completed to tight end Todd Heap, who needed to reach backward to make a one-handed grab. Another pass should have been intercepted by safety Robb Butler, a practice squad player last season.

But McNair later found receiver Derrick Mason deep for a 60-yard touchdown.

There were other instances when he double-clutched because he was unsure of where to throw the ball.

"He was thinking a lot," coach Brian Billick said. "He looked a little like a rookie coming out here. Obviously, he's got a lot to absorb right now."

To help McNair's transition, Mason gave the Ravens' coaches a list of plays that were called in Tennessee. Mason played eight seasons for the Titans before joining the Ravens last season.

"It's going to take awhile, but hopefully by training camp he's totally immersed in [their language]," Billick said.

The uneven practice did little to squelch the Ravens' enthusiasm about having McNair in a purple No. 9 jersey.

When Heap saw McNair yesterday morning, he jokingly asked his new quarterback if he knew the entire offense yet. McNair started reeling off all the Ravens' plays he had learned.

"I know it was just the first day, but I was impressed in what he picked up," Heap said.

Heap also was enthused about McNair's throws. Although the location was off, Heap said McNair's passes were delivered with a soft touch.

"He throws a very catchable ball," Heap said. "It's almost like it comes in slow motion. As a receiver, you can really attack it to make the catch."

Kyle Boller, the Ravens' starting quarterback for the past three seasons, relieved McNair to run the Ravens' red-zone offense and two-minute drills, both of which take more time to learn.

The practice ended with Boller throwing a touchdown pass to receiver Romby Bryant.

"What you can't do is go back to square one this week because that wouldn't be fair to the rest of the team," Billick said. "What [McNair] threw today was very basic. The key is to accelerate it."

As an example of how quickly things can change, one only has to look at the landscape of the AFC North. In a matter of days, the Ravens went from having the most uncertain quarterback situation in the division to perhaps the most stable.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are dealing with Ben Roethlisberger's motorcycle accident. The Cincinnati Bengals are uncertain about Carson Palmer's return after major knee surgery.

Compared with that, teaching a new offense to McNair might not be such a big obstacle after all.

"It's going to be a challenge. How hard it'll be is how hard I make it," McNair said. "Being in this league 11 years, I can match up some of the things I did in the past with some of the things I do here. It's just a matter of being patient and going through this offense in a calm way and not try to force something too fast."

Notes -- The final minicamp is voluntary. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, linebacker Adalius Thomas and defensive end-linebacker Terrell Suggs were absent. ... Linebacker Ray Lewis (hamstring), center Mike Flynn (knee) and receivers Clarence Moore (hernia) and Mark Clayton (hamstring) did not practice because of injuries. Clayton's hamstring limited him most of last offseason, too. "We're going to make him start renting his uniform if he's not out here more," Billick said. ... Rookie quarterback Drew Olson returned to workouts after completing his remaining schoolwork at UCLA.jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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