OWINGS MILLS, Md. — With most attention on the 2014 draft class as the Ravens gathered for their rookie minicamp this weekend, a number of former college players were trying to take advantage of what might be their only shot to catch on in the NFL.
In addition to working out draft picks, signed rookie free agents, and a few veterans previously on the practice squad or returning from injury, Baltimore invited 22 players to take part in rookie camp to not only fill out a full practice routine but take a look at any potential additions to the 90-man offseason roster. The most notable among them was wide receiver Jerry Rice Jr., the son of the Hall of Famer regarded by most as the greatest wideout in NFL history.
“He is a really good athlete. He doesn’t have his dad’s size, but he sure has his athleticism,” head coach John Harbaugh said. “When you watch him run, he runs a in a real similar way. And the other thing is he has that West Coast offense down. He has probably had that playbook since he was in the cradle.”
The former UCLA receiver is undersized at 5-foot-10 and caught only nine passes for the Bruins before transferring to UNLV for his senior season in which he caught 11 passes for 86 yards and a touchdown, making the likelihood of the Ravens signing him a long shot. However, Rice caught several passes on Saturday and took one slant to the end zone during non-contact 11-on-11 team drills.
Of course, watching his father play for years in San Francisco made him familiar with the offensive attack the Ravens will be using under new coordinator Gary Kubiak. The 22-year-old has also dealt with living in the shadow of his father without allowing it to take away from who he is as a person.
“It’s something I’ve been born with since the beginning; I don’t know any better,” Rice said. “You can take it two ways. You can either burden yourself or take it as a challenge. I definitely take it as a challenge. Why not strive to be the greatest? You only get one chance to do this. Why not try to do your best?”
While Rice’s tryout was a feel-good story in an otherwise mundane weekend in which many of the players participating won’t even make it to the remainder of organized team activities, Harbaugh was complimentary of a number of the Ravens’ draft picks including first-round linebacker C.J. Mosley and fourth-round running back Lorenzo Taliaferro. Third-round tight end Crockett Gillmore was one of the most impressive players on the field as he showed good hands in catching several passes.
Mosley was vocal while running the defensive huddle, and most expect him to immediately start next to veteran Daryl Smith in the 3-4 base defense.
“The first impression is that he seems very comfortable in a defense,” Harbaugh said. “He understands the game very well. He’s been really well-coached, obviously, down [at Alabama]. That was a big plus coming out.”
Harbaugh made it clear that there was no time to ease the rookies into action with the draft taking place two weeks later this year.
The mental preparation of learning an NFL system understandably takes time, but the physical rigors of playing at the next level were felt by the rookies immediately, according to the head coach.
“We go right at it as much as we can,” Harbaugh said. “It’s not real football. It’s not tackling and all that, but we try to throw a bunch on them mentally and really physically as well in terms of the running. Lorenzo Taliaferro told me that he had never been so sore in his life without hitting. I said, ‘Yeah, we run a lot in the NFL.'”
Lewis-Moore ready to show he belongs
The Ravens selected Notre Dame defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore in the sixth round of the 2013 draft fully knowing that his rookie year would essentially be a redshirt season after he suffered a torn ACL in the national championship game that January, but they’re hoping to reap the fruits of that long-term investment beginning this season.
Now 16 months removed from the injury and taking part in this weekend’s rookie camp, Lewis-Moore is out to prove why he was a well-regarded NFL prospect and to find his place in the defensive line rotation.
“I don’t have to relearn too much. We’re all football players and the game comes back to us pretty quick,” said Lewis-Moore, who briefly practice on a limited basis for a three-week period last season. “The first practice, I was a little rusty with my technique, but the afternoon practice was better. It’s going to be really competitive.”
The 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive lineman collected 40 tackles and six sacks in his senior season to help lead the Fighting Irish defense to the national championship game against Alabama.
Other veteran players taking part in rookie minicamp included tight end Matt Furstenburg, wide receiver Gerrard Sheppard, quarterback Nick Stephens, and lineman Cody Larsen, who were all members of the 2013 practice squad.
Fourth-round defensive end Brent Urban (offseason ankle surgery) and sixth-round wide receiver Michael Campanaro (hamstring strain) were present but did not participate in Saturday’s practice.
Third-round safety Terrence Brooks was excused from the team as he and his fiancée welcomed the birth of their son on Friday, but Harbaugh complimented the former Florida State defensive back’s work from earlier in the week.
The Ravens coach also said that left guard Kelechi Osemele (back surgery) was participating fully in the offseason training program and that running back Bernard Pierce (shoulder surgery) should be ready to go by the start of training camp.
“[Bernard’s] been allowed to move around a little bit, but we just can’t risk him falling on it right now and getting a setback,” Harbaugh said. “So, you’re probably looking at training camp for him, which shouldn’t be an issue as long as you don’t get a setback.”
Two more draft picks sign
The Ravens announced the signings of second-round defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan and Urban to their rookie contracts on Saturday afternoon.
The only draft picks who remain unsigned were Mosley and Brooks despite the draft only being completed last weekend.