Cranky Campers About To Meet Their Irritable Old Counselor

August 20, 2009|By KEVIN COWHERD

Down to the last few days of training camp, the Ravens are a cranky bunch.

Look, it's hard enough being around normal-size people in a bad mood - think of the screamers at these town hall meetings on health care reform.

But being around a lot of big guys tired of grueling two-a-days in the hot sun takes moodiness to a whole different level.

"Everybody's on edge," defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. "Everyone's a little stir-crazy. The walls are starting to close in."

"Everyone's tired of hitting each other," nose tackle Kelly Gregg said. "Everyone's tired of being away from their family."

The good news is: Camp officially breaks this weekend. Then the Ravens resume training at the Castle in Owings Mills, which means only one practice a day and the joy of watching your own 75-inch flat-screen TV and sleeping in your own luxury over-size bed.

But what do you do when you're tired of smacking helmets with guys you've been living with at the sumptuous Westminster Best Western hotel?

Right, you go looking for someone new to hit. Which is why the Ravens are looking forward to Monday's second preseason home game against the New York Jets, who - speaking of being cranky - are practically the home office for irritability these days.

This is primarily because of the tone being set by their new head coach, Rex Ryan.

Ryan, of course, was the Ravens' popular, longtime defensive coordinator before replacing Eric Mangini as Jets coach. But somehow he has morphed into the NFL version of your crazy Uncle Gus, a guy who seems determined to give voice to whatever thought pops into his head.

Never mind the little war of words he had with the Miami Dolphins' Channing Crowder. And the dissing - which you had to love - of New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, with Ryan saying he didn't come to New York to kiss Belichick's Super Bowl rings.

Now, just in time for Monday's game at M&T Bank Stadium, he popped off about Ravens rookie linebacker Paul Kruger.

I know, I know ... why would anyone pop off about Paul Kruger?

Outside Baltimore, who even knows who Paul Kruger is? I bet even Kruger's mom has trouble placing him at times.

Well, Ryan knows who Kruger is. And apparently he was ticked that the rookie was allowed to wear the No. 99 jersey once worn by former Ravens great Michael McCrary.

"I'm disappointed that they gave his jersey to some rookie who hasn't proven [bleep]," Ryan said delicately.

Again, why did he say it?

Who knows?

McCrary himself wasn't ticked about the jersey issue. He wished Kruger luck and looked forward to seeing him play.

And Kruger himself called Ryan's comment "childish" and "unprofessional." Which is probably where the matter should end.

Most of the Ravens refuse to take Ryan's comment seriously, saying it's just Ryan's way of taking the heat off his young team by focusing attention on himself.

"That was just Rex being Rex," Gregg said, grinning.

"Rex has a thing where he says, 'I got broad shoulders, put it on me,' " Pryce said. "That's what he's doing."

Well, um, OK. And Ryan did back off his comments the next day, saying he "got carried away" and that he "shouldn't talk about somebody else's football team."

But you talk about being cranky.

Even more curious, as described in a recent article in Sports Illustrated, is the thing Ryan has for fighting.

According to the piece by Peter King, nothing makes Ryan perk up more than a good old knock-down, drag-out training camp brawl.

He has even coached his players on how they should react to these brawls: Offensive players should pull defensive players off the pile, and vice versa.

According to Ryan, this guarantees that the guy from the other unit doesn't get in a cheap shot on the guy from your unit while your guy's being held.

"I've never heard of a coach who gave his players rules for fighting - never mind rules for fighting with each other," King wrote.

But the Ravens seem inclined to shrug off that bit of nuttiness, too. They say Ryan is simply trying to instill his tough-guy, we-won't-back-down-from-anyone mentality on his new team.

"That's just the way he is," Pryce said. "If he's coaching here or pee-wee, it doesn't matter."

Monday night, Rex Ryan returns to Baltimore with his new football team.

He may be the NFL's new Captain Bizarro. But the Ravens will greet him with open arms - at least before the game.

After the opening kickoff, everyone goes back to being cranky.

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