OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Though the dread locks and thick beard were trademark looks of his past, a mature, clean-shaven Ricky Williams passed his physical and took the practice field for the first time with the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday afternoon.
After signing a two-year contract worth $2.5 million — with escalators that could reach $4 million total — the 34-year-old met with the Baltimore media explaining why he chose the Ravens over a possible opportunity to receive more carries with the Detroit Lions.
“It’s an established organization with a lot of [veterans],” Williams said. “Playing against them almost every year for the past six or seven years, you don’t like playing against them because of the way they play. I thought I would fit in well in this situation and be able to enjoy myself and possibly win a Super Bowl.”
Williams only ran a handful of plays as he spent much of the afternoon conferring with coaches and players in order to get up to speed with the offense. Having the advantage of playing in Cam Cameron’s system for their one year together in Miami, Williams admires the Ravens offensive coordinator — a contributing factor for his decision to come to Baltimore.
Despite a rocky start between the two when Cameron served as the Miami head coach in 2007, Williams gained a different view of him after an hour-long meeting.
“I really love what he does with the offense,” said Williams, who guessed that he would likely receive eight to 12 carries per game. “Just watching him out here at practice and how hands-on he is and how important the details are. For me, I love having that accountability on offense, and I think it’s going to make me a better player and it’s going to make our offense really good.”
With Jalen Parmele and rookie Anthony Allen previously competing for the backup running back job, Williams brings a diverse set of skills to both the running and passing game. With the uncertainty regarding center Matt Birk’s health and the competition at right tackle between Jah Reid and Oniel Cousins, coach John Harbaugh views Williams as quality pass blocker in the backfield.
“Adding Ricky into the mix helps us, makes us a better team,” Harbaugh said. “No doubt about it. We started talking about him a day or two ago and had a chance to put some tape on him yesterday, and, to me, he looks as good as ever — talking about last year. He ran the ball well, he’s very good in pass protection, [and] he understands pass protection. That’s really important for us now.”
Williams is unlikely to play against the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, but the Ravens expect the veteran back to be up to speed very quickly.
“I’m going to encourage him not to play on Thursday night,” Harbaugh said. “One practice out here probably is not enough to get him ready and keep him safe. I think he kind of wants to play, but we’ll probably hold him back.
The Eagles have been the clear-cut winner of an abbreviated off-season with the additions of cornerbacks Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, defensive end Cullen Jenkins, running back Ronnie Brown and defensive end Jason Babin.
While NFL teams certainly don’t install a game plan against preseason opponents, the Ravens’ many personnel changes — especially on offense — make Thursday’s meeting in Philadelphia a litmus test for Harbaugh and the coaching staff to gauge how much work needs to be done over the next month before games actually start counting. The Eagles are widely-regarded as a favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl.
“It’s a great test,” Harbaugh said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how we stack up. That’s a very talented team. It’s not going to take them long [to gel]. They’ve got a lot of guys back. It’s not like it’s a bunch of new guys, the whole team’s new. They’re just plugging in some guys here and there. Obviously, they’re one of the best teams in the NFC.”
As is the case with any preseason opener, the veteran stars such as Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata will see limited action, according to Harbaugh. The head coach said some veterans may only play a series or even less.
“We’ll be very judicious with those guys,” Harbaugh said. “The younger guys or the guys who need more time — the passing game a little bit — I think we’ll put more time in with those guys.”
It will be interesting to see how Harbaugh handles the workload of veterans who signed new contracts and were unable to practice until last Thursday. Those players would have less than a week of practices under their belts before their first game action.
Rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith (groin) will not suit up for Thursday’s game. Smith saw an increased workload in Tuesday’s practice and ran stride-for-stride with fellow rookie Tandon Doss on a fly route without any apparent limitations on one play. However, the Ravens will play it safe with their first-round pick as defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano suggested a few days ago.
Tight end Ed Dickson wore his helmet for a portion of Tuesday’s practice but did not participate in individual or team drills. He will not play on Thursday, leaving fellow second-year tight end Dennis Pitta to make the start.
Harbaugh expecting no brotherly love in Philly
After spending 10 seasons with the Eagles as a special teams coordinator and defensive backs coach, Harbaugh will return to Philadelphia for the first time as head coach of the Ravens.
Knowing the Philadelphia fans’ impeccable decorum in welcoming the opposition to Lincoln Financial Field, Harbaugh knows what to expect when he steps on the field on Thursday night.
“I’m fully expecting to be cheered rabidly,” said Harbaugh while laughing. “I’ll be highly disappointed if that doesn’t happen.”
In addition to Dickson, cornerback Domonique Foxworth was absent from practice for the second straight day. The Ravens have been cautious with Foxworth’s surgically-repaired knee, but this marks the first time the 28-year-old defensive back has missed consecutive practices during camp. His absence puts his status for Thursday in question.
With Foxworth out and Smith still limited in practice, Chris Carr and Lardarius Webb worked as the starting cornerbacks on Tuesday and could be working with the starting defense against the Eagles.
Linebacker Tavares Gooden (undisclosed) was also absent from practice while veterans Cory Redding and Chris Carr returned to practice after sitting out Monday.
Receiver James Hardy (hamstring), running back Matt Lawrence (undisclosed), center Matt Birk (knee surgery), and defensive tackle Cornell Banks were among the others not practicing.
Defensive tackle Brandon McKinney was activated from the physically-unable-to-perform list and practiced for the first time on Tuesday. McKinney’s removal leaves receiver David Reed (wrist) and offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knees) as the only players on the active PUP list.
Odds & ends
Williams wore No. 38 during his first practice with the Ravens but has since brokered a deal with running back Jalen Parmele for his customary No. 34. Parmele will switch to No. 33. … A fight broke out between offensive tackle Andre Ramsey and linebacker Albert McClellan after the lineman went low on him, causing a brief skirmish in which a helmet could be seen flying from the huddle. Ramsey later left the field, appearing to be favoring his hand. … Oniel Cousins and Jah Reid shared reps at the starting right tackle position, but Cousins also worked at left tackle with the second team since he’s the primary backup to Michael Oher. … A tandem of former Terps served as the gunners on the punt team as rookie receivers Torrey Smith and LaQuan Williams filled the roles during Tuesday’s practice. … Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor spent some time working as the holder for kicker Billy Cundiff. The role is normally held by punter Sam Koch. … Prior to Tuesday’s practice, the Ravens waived rookie running back and Mervo High product Walter Sanders with Williams’ addition to the 90-man roster. The Ravens also signed offensive lineman Kyle Calloway, a 6-foot-7 first-year player from Iowa.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear more from Ricky Williams and John Harbaugh following Tuesday’s practice.