Ravens offense challenges defense as camp ends

Quarterback, wide receiver, tight end now considered strong points

August 19, 2010|By Jamison Hensley, The Baltimore Sun

This year's Ravens training camp started with a devastating injury to cornerback Domonique Foxworth and ended with three missed field-goal attempts.

In between, over the 17 days of full-team practices at McDaniel College, something new happened with the Ravens.

"I can truthfully say that this is probably the first year I've been here where the competition is equal on both sides," said cornerback Fabian Washington, who concluded his third training camp with the Ravens on Thursday. "Offensively and defensively, we go out each day and we really don't know who's going to win the battle that day. In previous years, a majority of the time, it would be the defense. This year, the offense has been putting some whuppings on us, and then we would bounce back and do the same to them. So I think it's only preparing us for the season."

A team-record 112,051 fans flocked this summer to Westminster, where Ray Lewis and his defensive teammates weren't the bullies of old. Joe Flacco and his new targets pushed back — a significant step for a team looking to make a Super Bowl run.

Anquan Boldin made tough catches over the middle. Donte' Stallworth came up with acrobatic ones down the sideline. Even returning pass-catchers, such as Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, contributed to what likely was the best camp for the Ravens' offense in more than a decade.

But the defense delivered its own shots, whether it was strong safety Dawan Landry sending a teammate to the locker room with a crushing blow or free safety Tom Zbikowski returning an interception for a touchdown.

"Hopefully, we're the best football team we can be coming out of this training camp at this time, but we still have work to do," coach John Harbaugh said. "Next week, we'll be right into training camp again, and it'll be one-a-days, more of an in-season-type schedule, but we'll still be in camp as far as we're concerned. It'll just be at our facility."

In the past, the Ravens packed up and left camp with questions about their quarterbacks, wide receivers and tight ends. Those positions are now considered strengths.

The biggest concern is the Ravens' secondary, where Foxworth is lost for the season, Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed is on an uncertain timetable to return after offseason hip surgery and cornerback Lardarius Webb is on the physically-unable-to-perform list after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in December.

"What people say doesn't matter. It's what you do on the field," cornerback Chris Carr said. "I think we're going to be very good. If you look at it objectively, we're the eighth-ranked pass defense in the NFL with all those injuries. You can't fake being eighth-ranked. Why don't you talk to the 16th-ranked, 17th-ranked and 20th-ranked secondaries?"

Carr added: "One of the things that's good is there are high expectations. People expect us to play well. We should have those same high expectations. We feel like we're playing the right coverages; we feel like we can be elite. We feel like if we get off to a good start and be consistent the entire season, we can be top five."

Camp superlatives

Best moment: Stallworth's amazing catch. A few days before the preseason opener, Stallworth tapped a pass over Washington's helmet with one hand and caught it with the other before racing to the end zone. Known for his speed, Stallworth also showed strong hands at camp.

Worst moment: Foxworth's injury. Losing top draft pick Sergio Kindle (fractured skull) disappointed the Ravens, but losing Foxworth deflated the players. It happened one day before the Ravens suited up for contact practices, which made the injury even more unbelievable.

Best battle: Inside linebacker. This competition appears wide open after Jameel McClain stumbled in the preseason opener. Harbaugh said Dannell Ellerbe and Tavares Gooden will get their shots over the next few weeks.

Worst battle: Terrence Cody vs. the team's conditioning test. The 349-pound rookie nose tackle missed one day of practice but finally passed the Ravens' timed running regimen on the third try. "I'll have to admit that I was surprised this morning when he passed the conditioning test," Harbaugh said after Cody cleared the required time. "But we have it on tape."

Nonexistent battle: Safety. Some thought newcomer Ken Hamlin would fill in for the injured Reed. But Zbikowski proved otherwise. His outstanding play — and improved speed — has solidified a spot in the starting lineup. Coaches want Hamlin to put more effort into special teams, which could decide whether the former Pro Bowl defender makes the team.

Biggest improvement: Paul Kruger. The 2009 second-round pick gained 15pounds and now packs more punch as a pass rusher. He recently dominated a one-on-one drill, going four straight times and winning easily three times. Backup tight end Davon Drew has gone from a disappointing rookie to a second-year player making an unexpected run at the roster.

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