Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco, right, chats with wide receiver… (Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth…)
On one of the final two-minute drills of minicamp, on a wind-whipped practice field Sunday, the Ravens' David Reed slipped inside coverage to catch a laser throw from Troy Smith in the end zone.
Forget six points. This was a giant step by a rookie wide receiver who had gotten lost in play calls two days earlier. It was a good place to finish for the fifth-round draft pick, and it was representative of the overall progress of this year's class of rookies.
"I benefitted a lot watching Anquan Boldin, Derrick Mason, guys like that," Reed said later. "I see little tweaks I can use in my routes. I'm learning and I think I'm learning pretty fast. I'm trying to be a sponge out there."
Minicamps always come with certain qualifiers: no pads, no hitting, no guarantees. But Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he felt good about what his rookies gained in the course of five practices.
"Most importantly, I think they got a feel for the tempo of how we do things," he said. "You know, for how much we expect of them in terms of learning things quickly, being thrown right in there, being able to think fast, process a lot of information quickly, play after play. … How easily, if you make a mistake, if you're not on top of things, it's a touchdown or it's a sack or whatever.
"And that's what we want," Harbaugh said. "We want them to be able to learn to think fast under pressure. I think they learned how we operate a little bit in terms of working hard … so they're off to a good start."
Three days in May proved especially beneficial for draft picks Sergio Kindle, Terrence Cody and Art Jones, three players who could make an impact on defense this season.
Kindle got his initiation with the first unit at outside linebacker because veteran Jarret Johnson was idle, coming off shoulder surgery. He also got pass-rush lessons from a number of teammates.
But the thing he appreciated most by the end of camp was the tempo at which the Ravens practice.
"It's live bullets out there," he said. "[Defensive coordinator Will] Muschamp kind of got me prepared for it by the way he incorporated a fast tempo at Texas.
"But besides that, there's the playbook. Coming in, it's hard to learn however many of those plays on the fly, and special teams, and the facility. … There were some veterans sharing some of their wisdom and knowledge of the playbook. I got help from Jarret Johnson the most. As far as being an end rusher, it was [Antwan] Barnes. He said I've got the speed for it, [that] I just need better technique and a couple more moves, and I've got to read tackle play better."
Defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said Kindle's attributes at Texas were readily apparent in Baltimore, suggesting they translate well to the NFL game.
"He shows me a guy that can run, just like he did in his college days," Mattison said. "He's very, very explosive. He's a very aggressive football player, and he's very coachable."
Mattison also liked what he saw in Cody, the defensive tackle who slipped deep into the second round because of his history of being overweight. Cody's weight reportedly is in the 350-pound range, but even at that, he has already demonstrated a quick first step.
Cody knows he has to be more disciplined to play — and stay — in the NFL than he was at Alabama, where he was a terrific run-stuffer but pretty much a nonfactor in the pass rush. And he knows that more than his NFL longevity depends on weight control.
"Yeah, I feel it's more important to me than it is to them [the Ravens] because it's my life, and if I don't get control of it and do what I'm supposed to do, then I'm not going to have a long career or a long life," Cody said.
Because he played in a 3-4 defense at Alabama under former NFL coach Nick Saban, Cody said he was perhaps more comfortable with his transition than most.
"I kind of learned it quicker than the other guys," he said.
Jones, a 6-foot-3, 305-pound defensive tackle, skidded into the fifth round of the draft, selected one pick after the Ravens took Reed, because of a torn meniscus in the final month of Syracuse's season.
He said the knee is completely healed, and he, too, was impressed with the tempo of an NFL practice.
'Moving in sync'
"The pace is a lot faster," Jones said. "The offensive line is moving in sync, so you've got to learn on the run. It's a business and they expect you to be on cue. It's been a great learning experience and I can't wait to come back here and get to work. The older guys have definitely helped me out, like Kelly Talavou and Kelly Gregg. They've taken me under their wing to help me get better."
Reed, meanwhile, indicated he was well on his way to clearing up the terminology problems he experienced earlier in camp. And he found out why jumping from college to the NFL is such a tough proposition for wide receivers.
"Today went a little smoother than yesterday, for sure," Reed said. "I'm starting to know all the easy stuff, all the simple formations. But then they've got codes for the whole call, so I've got to learn that."