Kevin Cowherd: You can sit back and relax

we now know the Ravens weren't

July 31, 2011|Kevin Cowherd

Maybe Ravens fans will step back from the ledge now and calm down.

Oh, you heard all the howling on the talk shows and message boards the past few days.

Why weren't the Ravens doing anything as the NFL's free-agent feeding frenzy got under way?

How come they were just standing around as quality free agents like Nnamdi Asomugha and Santonio Holmes and Johnathan Joseph were being snapped up by other teams?

Personally, I never believed anyone at the Castle was sitting around yawning and eating bonbons during all this.

I pictured Ozzie Newsome at his desk with his laptop glowing in front of him and a phone in each hand as he yakked nonstop with agents and other general managers.

I figured the guy was so busy trying to make deals he was probably being fed intravenously and his eyes were twin slits from lack of sleep.

Then Sunday we learned the Ravens had signed All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach, and for the first time in days, Ravens Nation seemed to exhale.

Know this about Leach: His signing has instantly improved the Ravens' offense. The team has vowed to return to the days when it had a smash-mouth running game. The signing of Leach lets you know all that talk wasn't just a lot of hot air.

For Ray Rice, running behind Leach will be like running behind a Greyhound bus. Look what it did for Arian Foster of the Houston Texans last year. All he did was win the NFL rushing title.

Do yourself a favor: Go online and find a picture of the 6-foot, 255-pound Leach.

Then check out the size of the man's neck. It looks like a bridge piling. I'm telling you, Rice could probably run behind that neck alone and rush for 100 yards a game.

On the other hand, Ravens fans also experienced a very real sadness Sunday in discovering that fan favorite Todd Heap won't be back in Baltimore.

There was nothing else in football like hearing 70,000 Ravens fans at the Bank screaming, "HEEEEAP!" into the autumn sky after the big tight end caught the ball.

But that's the nature of the NFL. It's a business — a cold, cruel business, if you want to know the truth.

Kelly Gregg, another popular, longtime Raven, is gone, too. He signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs. And who knows whether Derrick Mason will be back, as much as he says he'd like to return?

All the wheeling and dealing this weekend simply served to highlight how different this Ravens training camp is from any other.

No, the Ravens aren't in Westminster anymore. They're not practicing at leafy McDaniel College and signing autographs for the fans. They're not trooping back up to the charming Best Western ("High-speed Internet access! Guest laundry! Meeting/banquet facilities!") at the end of the day.

Now you have some 90 players sharing a locker room at the Castle designed for 61, adding a new level of intimacy that big men don't necessarily want after a sweaty, three-hour practice in 90-degree heat.

Now there are cots set up on the indoor racquetball courts, giving them the look of a high-class homeless shelter where someone might get up and decide to work on his lob serve at any moment.

Now the players are shuttled back and forth to a nearby hotel ("Even better high-speed Internet access! Guest laundry you won't believe! Crackerjack meeting/banquet facilities!")

And now there's a quiet surrounding training camp that was never there before.

Remember the old Westerns when the wagon train would be going through the canyon, everyone looking around nervously for signs of an ambush until someone muttered: "It's quiet. Too quiet?"

That's the kind of quiet you have at Ravens practice now.

Oh, don't get me wrong. The Ravens are working hard. And their practices are intense, high-energy affairs with a lot of whooping and hollering. Especially when they're going full contact and someone gets laid out from a bone-rattling hit.

But without thousands of cheering fans lining the fields — and you couldn't have that out at 1 Winning Drive, the roads and parking lots would look like Woodstock — the old, familiar buzz of camp is missing.

"It really just kind of feels like we just showed up and started the regular season," linebacker Jarret Johnson said the other day.

Said coach John Harbaugh: "It's different because you don't have the fans. I think that's the downside. It's more like a regular-season practice. From a focus standpoint, it's great. But from the interaction with the fans, which our guys really appreciate, it's not great.

"We would probably rather be in a real camp that way."

Until then, though, the Ravens fall back on that timeless sports cliche: It is what it is.

And so is this preseason, the weirdest in NFL history.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

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