OWINGS MILLS, Md. — A year ago at this time, Ravens linebacker Sergio Kindle was in a hospital bed, uncertain of his future quality of life, let alone whether he would ever be able to play football again.
But as the Ravens returned to the practice field for the first time since the end of the 134-day lockout, coaches and players alike couldn’t help but take satisfaction in seeing Kindle’s smiling face as he stepped on the practice field for the first time in over a year. Coach John Harbaugh even noted that Kindle smiled as he took — and passed — the dread conditioning test to which every player is subjected.
None of it means Kindle will approach the potential he once had when the Ravens selected him with the 43rd overall pick of the 2010 NFL draft, but it’s a large step forward from where the 23-year-old was 12 months ago. Another test will take place over the weekend when the Ravens can go live in practice for the first time.
“It’s great for him as a person,” Harbaugh said. “That’s the No. 1 thing — what he’s overcome and to be out there. He looked good. Obviously, that’s one step, but I’m just happy for him. He had joy written all over his face.”
Keeping in mind Thursday’s workout was not a live practice with players dressed in helmets, shells, and shorts, Kindle was a full participant, running mostly with the second defense. He lined up with his hand in the grass — rushing around the edge — and dropped back into coverage at other times.
“He practiced well, so it’s going to be fun to see how he progresses,” Harbaugh said. “We’ve got high hopes for him right now.
For a 16-year veteran like linebacker Ray Lewis, it was a moment he enjoyed watching a “young kid” regain his future. Lewis spoke to Kindle before the lockout ended and heard the news directly from the former Texas product that doctors had cleared him to play.
“He can really go ahead and pursue what he wants to pursue,” Lewis said. “Now, to see him out there running around, to see the smile on his face just to be back on a football field, there’s just nothing more rewarding than just being around that right now.”
Kindle’s conditioning is not a concern, as the former second-round pick went through a combine workout in January and matched his numbers from the 2010 rookie combine that took place months before his fall down two flights of stairs last July. However, how he responds to live contact and potential blows to the head remains to be seen.
Third-round pick Jah Reid came to terms on a new contract as the Ravens’ first practice was beginning. Instead of rewarding himself with a relaxing afternoon, however, the offensive tackle signed his four-year contract, took (and passed) his conditioning test, and joined his teammates on the practice field.
Reid took plenty of reps at right tackle with the first offense, with many believing he could be the starter this season with a strong training camp.
“He is one of the few lineman to make it through practice, so I think that says a lot about him,” Harbaugh said. “He is an athlete. For a man his size, he can really bend and move his feet, and he is picking up fast. We don’t want to overstate it. How many weeks are we behind with these guys? And it’s only one practice, but so far, so good.”
The Ravens could very well explore veteran options through free agency, but Reid’s current competition at right tackle includes the likes of maligned fourth-year tackle Oniel Cousins and second-year player Ramon Harewood.
Can’t take the heat
With a three-hour practice on a Thursday afternoon, numerous players were dealing with cramping issues, including rookie receivers Torrey Smith and Tandon Doss, receiver James Hardy, and fullback Jason McKie. Smith was taken into the training room halfway through practice but returned. McKie was taken inside during the latter portion of practice and did not return.
Others leaving the field with potential injuries included linebacker Jason Phillips and offensive tackle Eric Vanden Heuvel. Rookie receiver Terrell Zachery had an ice pack on the back of his knee in the latter portion of practice.
A number of veterans were present at practice, but did not participate, including left guard Ben Grubbs, receiver David Reed, and offensive tackle Ramon Harewood. They would appear to be candidates for the active physically unable to perform list, which allows a player to be eligible for the reserve PUP — where Ed Reed landed for the first six weeks of the 2010 regular season. Players on the active PUP list can return to practice at any time.
Linebacker Terrell Suggs sat out with a sore hamstring as a precautionary measure.
Veterans signing new contracts such — which includes unrestricted and restricted free agents as well as exclusive-rights players are not eligible to practice until Aug. 4 under the new collective bargaining agreement. This date signifies the start of the new league year.
This means a number of veterans were absent from the field, including Tom Zbikowski, Haruki Nakamura, Jameel McClain, Tavares Gooden, and Dannell Ellerbe. This would also include the newly-signed Marshal Yanda as well as Prescott Burgess.
Safety Ed Reed, who is under contract, was not present for practice.
Rookies getting up to speed
With eight draft picks and 26 rookie free agents not having the opportunity to undergo a typical offseason at the Ravens’ training facility, the learning curve of grasping the playbook is as difficult as it’s ever been for players hoping to make the 53-man roster or practice squad.
For example, rookies Mana Silva and Nate Williams received extensive time at safety with the first-team defense since Reed, Nakamura, and Zbikowski were not present on Thursday. The Ravens’ defensive leader Lewis views rookies as having the biggest challenge with no offseason to prepare mentally.
“They don’t have the time and the opportunity anymore to really grasp those things,” Lewis said. “Everything is fast. If you’re not a great studier, then you fall behind. If you’re not a quick learner on the field, then you fall behind. You find those diamonds in the rough sometimes through going through that process. Every team is dealing with it though.”
Quick as a Fox
With Kindle’s return to practice grabbing so much attention, it was easy to forget about Domonique Foxworth’s first action since a torn ACL injury ended his 2010 season during a walk-through the night before the first full-squad practice of training camp.
The seven-year veteran cornerback did not wear a brace or wrap on his surgically-repaired right knee and appeared quick to the ball on several repetitions during passing and team drills. Foxworth labeled himself 100 percent healthy when he reported on Tuesday despite an “up and down” offseason rehabbing the injury.
“He didn’t seem to be hesitant at all,” Harbaugh said. “He seemed confident and looked strong, so that was a pleasant thing to see.”
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