(Updated: 4:45 p.m.)
BALTIMORE — With their only chance to watch the Ravens work out this summer after the lockout forced the cancellation of training camp in Westminster, 24,078 fans flocked to M&T Bank Stadium to watch a three-hour practice on Saturday morning.
Though fans surely missed notable veterans such as Todd Heap — now with the Arizona Cardinals — and free agent Derrick Mason, the enthusiasm was palpable and brought a different feel to practice that players have not experienced in the quiet confines of their training facility in Owings Mills.
“It’s different,” said coach John Harbaugh, who gave a mixed review on how his players handled the crowd. “I talked to the team afterwards about communicating. You get in an environment like this and you realize it’s tough. We had a lot of distractions by design. It wasn’t just for the fans to have the interviews and the music and all that. It was also a great distraction for our players to overcome the noise and all that.”
Given Friday’s news of free-agent target Malcom Floyd signing a two-year contract to remain in San Diego, a hot topic of discussion after practice was the speculated return of Mason, who agreed to a one-year contract with the New York Jets following Saturday’s practice. Mason’s return would have been welcomed by quarterback Joe Flacco and No. 1 receiver Anquan Boldin.
“Derrick’s a great guy, great locker room guy,” said Flacco, who will now be without the security blanket of his first three seasons. “He can be a little bit of a diva sometimes, but that’s all good and fun with him for the most part. Derrick’s a great wide receiver. He’d help this team out in my opinion, and I’d welcome him back immediately.”
How receptive Boldin would have been to Mason’s potential return was more intriguing considering how similar the two players are in terms of where they work best in the passing game. Despite the former Cardinals receiver being acquired last season to be the No. 1 receiver, Flacco often went to Mason as his first option, leaving Boldin as a mere afterthought at times.
However, Boldin has to be looking around at a plethora of rookies and inexperienced receivers while wondering what impact that might have on his ability to thrive in the offense. He won’t have to worry about Mason taking away his opportunities anymore, but the thought of defenses keying on him exclusively has to be prevalent in his mind.
“Me and [Mason] have a great rapport,” said Boldin, who had been exchanging text messages with Mason as recently as a couple days ago. “I think he can help us out tremendously. I would love to have Mase back.”
With receivers struggling to gain separation during practice, linebacker Terrell Suggs would have welcomed the swagger the 37-year-old always brought to the other side of the football.
“I would be very excited to see Mason back,” the Pro Bowl linebacker said. “Not only is he a phenomenal player, he’s a phenomenal locker room guy and a great leader. He brings a little edge to the offensive side of the ball, so I definitely want Mase back.”
Saturday afternoon’s news of Mason joining Rex Ryan in the Big Apple will only leave the Ravens scratching their heads as the wide receiver position remains in flux.
First-round pick eased back into practice
After being sidelined with a groin injury since Monday afternoon’s practice, cornerback Jimmy Smith returned to practice and was able to get his first taste of action at M&T Bank Stadium.
However, Smith returned to the sideline, wearing a ball cap, during 11-on-11 team drills after the individual portion of practice concluded at the end of the first hour. This was all part of the plan, according to defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.
“He’s nursing that groin,” said Pagano, who confirmed Smith did not re-aggravate the injury. “Our [training staff members] do a great job of monitoring these guys. To rush him out there and rush him back, you’d set him back two more weeks, maybe three more weeks. We’re being very guarded with that.”
After two days of strong practices and appearing to feel no effect of a hamstring issue that hobbled him over the first few days of camp, rookie receiver Torrey Smith did not participate during the second half of practice. When asked about the hamstring, Smith briefly labeled himself “A-okay” in what sounded more like a Harbaugh-mandated answer than a clear indication of his status — telling the truth or not.
There were no changes to the active physically-unable-to-perform list as offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knees), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee), receiver David Reed (wrist), and long snapper Morgan Cox (knee) did not practice on Saturday.
Cox says his surgically-repaired left knee does not impact his snapping while working out on his own, but movements needed for blocking and other responsibilities still cause pain in the knee. The long snapper could return to practice as early as this week, but his timetable for a return could linger deeper into the preseason depending on the knee’s progress.
Utah State rookie Patrick Scales has been the only healthy long snapper on the 90-man roster through the first week of camp.
Other players not practicing included tight end Ed Dickson (undisclosed) receivers James Hardy (hamstring) and Rodney Bradley, running back Matt Lawrence, and center Matt Birk (knee surgery).
Dickson has missed two straight days of practice.
Odds & ends
Pass protection was a major area of concern for both the first and second units on Saturday, as the defensive line created constant pressure on Flacco and rookie quarterback Tyrod Taylor. Terrell Suggs came off the edge untouched on one play in 11-on-11 work and would have had a hit reminiscent of Bart Scott on Ben Roethlisberger in 2006 had it been a real game situation.
The starting offensive line included Bryan Mattison at center and rookie Jah Reid at right tackle, with fourth-year tackle Oniel Cousins mostly working with the second unit.
Defensively, Cory Redding worked at defensive end — after sharing time with Arthur Jones on Friday — while Tom Zbikowski received a majority of the reps at strong safety next to Ed Reed. However, Haruki Nakamura saw plenty of time with the first unit as the Ravens limited Reed’s reps during the 11-on-11 portion of practice. The starting cornerbacks were Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr.
The defensive highlight of the day came on a high pass from Flacco that was intercepted by Reed. Fans yelled the customary “Reed!” as the 10-year veteran ran with the ball — without lateraling it to a teammate.
Kicker Billy Cundiff was 6-for-6 on field goals, including one from 58 yards that had plenty of distance left over. The Ravens — and play-by-play voice Gerry Sandusky — tried to great a real-game atmosphere as much as they could, but the iron-footed Cundiff was not fazed.
After an impressive week of practices in his first training camp, rookie Tandon Doss had a difficult day, dropping several passes and being stripped of the ball by linebacker Jason Phillips after Doss had made a first-down reception.
Tight end Dennis Pitta — receiving the first-team reps with Dickson not practicing — had a few drops, including one that would have gone for a long gain. Unimpressed by the second-year player’s effort, an audible cheer for the popular Heap could be heard from the press box.
Former Maryland receiver LaQuan Williams continues to impress despite being a long shot to make the 53-man roster. Working with the second-team in a “last player of the game” simulation, Williams brought down a jump ball from Tyrod Taylor in the back of the end zone, wrestling the ball away with rookie safety Mana Silva covering. A strong showing in the early part of camp and his special teams prowess make Williams a viable candidate for the practice squad.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to listen to post-practice interviews with John Harbaugh, Joe Flacco, Terrell Suggs, Anquan Boldin, Torrey Smith, Tom Zbikowski, and defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano.