Ready for some football?

Ravens take to the field to rescue us from the doldrums

May 06, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

It's May, the air is sultry, the flowers are blooming, the Orioles stink and the Preakness is right around the corner.

So the logical question is: Are you ready for some football?

Maybe you'd better be.

I say this because unless you're a masochist who enjoys watching the Orioles get pounded every night, you might want to turn your attention to the Ravens' first minicamp this weekend in Owings Mills.

In the NFL, of course, there's really no such thing as the offseason.

There's combine season, followed by draft season, followed by minicamps and OTAs. And these are followed by training camp, preseason games, regular-season games and postseason games.

If you're an NFL player, only if you die do you get any extended downtime.

So out at The Castle on Wednesday, they were mowing the lawns and watering the shrubs in preparation for the big weekend, making the place look even more like a four-star resort or a tony private university than an NFL complex.

At a little before noon, Matt Birk, the Ravens' veteran center, strolled out of the gleaming weight room, past the plush locker room and grabbed a protein drink in the fully stocked cafeteria.

Then he thought back to his first minicamp with the Minnesota Vikings 12 years ago, when he was this big, fresh-faced kid just out of Harvard.

Things were, oh, a little different back then.

"I remember when I came in the league, we used to walk into our locker room, we kind of went through a loading dock," he said. "And the first thing there was the media room. Right there. And there were three chairs. And one phone. And that was it. If you took two more steps, you were in the locker room."

Birk was one of about 45 Ravens already working out at The Castle. Like the other veterans, he was anxious to get his first look Friday at the team's new draft choices, especially the second-round guys, Sergio Kindle, the motormouth outside linebacker from Texas, and Terrence Cody, the 6-foot-4, 360-pound defensive tackle from Alabama.

Kindle, tough and mobile, is already something of a legend with the Baltimore media. That's because on draft night, asked in his very first interview what it felt like to be selected by the Ravens, he chuckled and replied: "It feels [expletive] good."

I know, I know … you wish the guy would come out of his shell a little.

And Cody, who's being looked at as a prototypical run-stopper, is so big he has already earned the nickname of "Mount Cody."

"I've only seen him on TV, but he looks big," Birk said, laughing. "Big guys are good. You can't teach big. Big guys that can play — that's a valuable commodity."

Thinking of the new guys who'll get their first taste of the NFL this weekend, Birk remembered how he felt at his first minicamp with the Vikings in 1998.

"For me, there were so many different emotions: nervous, excited, disbelief," he said.

But at his very first workout, another emotion came over him. This one could best be described as: Somebody shoot me.

"I remember on my first play, I had to go against John Randle," he said, referring to the Vikings' Hall of Fame defensive tackle who retired in 2004. "It was a pass play. I don't think I touched him. … He went right around me. Probably the easiest sack he ever had in his life. It [was] kind of like: 'OK, this is what it's like at this level.'"

The Sergio Kindles and the Mount Codys and all the rest will go through similar trials and tribulations, he said.

"A lot of them will be overwhelmed mentally, physically, everything," Birk said. "You're just thrown into it. But it's good. You get a taste of it, get a feel for what it's like, your barometer is reset and you kind of work from there."

Of course, at his first minicamp, Birk also took all sorts of abuse from the coaches and veterans for being from hoity-toity Harvard in the uppity Ivy League.

"Especially early on, when you bust a play or have a mental error," he said. "Then it was: 'I don't believe you went to Harvard, let me see your diploma, you're the dumbest smart guy I've ever seen, or the smartest dumb guy.'"

Couldn't have been too dumb. He has made six Pro Bowls. And he's about to begin his 13th season in the league, on a team with a decent shot of getting to the Super Bowl.

Starting Friday, we'll start to get a feel for this team, for how good it can really be.

It's May. It's football season.

Couldn't come at a better time.

Listen to Kevin Cowherd on Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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