I was fortunate enough to be one of the lucky few to get ParkingPanda.com to load at just the right moments when Ravens fans literally fried their servers to get passes to Training Camp and scored Day 1 tickets to Training Camp. As a foreward before I get into my observations and a review, I should note that I moved to Westminster in Fall 2007, and had a run of a few years attending camp at McDaniel. When they moved, I understood, but I felt shafted as a fan. The stadium practices are great, and I encourage all who read this to attend the one on Saturday July 21st, but the Ravens just seemed to be lacking the personal touch of the old McDaniel camp days…
So, to get this out of the way for those who just want the Nuts and Bolts…
TRAINING CAMP OBSERVATIONS – DAY 1
Today was a “Shells and Shorts” day, seeing as it was the first day of camp, so lots of non-contact, simply running and movement drills for the players. As such, it’s hard to gauge a lot of insight from what we saw on the field at practice, because the men separate themselves from the ghosts when the hitting starts (Clarence Moore comes to mind).
Notable Abscences – Apart from the known PUP players (Yanda, Quincy Adeboyejo, Bam Bradley, Jaylen Hill, Vince Mayle), two rookies were missing from the field today:
- Mark Andrews was dealing with a “muscle tissue issue” (Try saying that five times fast) and is day to day. It’s not a great development, as that term is about as medically certain as “ants in the pants”, but until it lingers, it doesn’t seem to be serious
- Greg Senat suffered an undisclosed injury and will miss 1-3 weeks. Given that Senat is a developmental flier at OT, this likely puts him even more likely to end up as an IR stash or Practice Squad player. It helps that Ravens open camp early this year, so 1-3 week setback would have him returning 2nd week of August, or basically halfway through camp. But, Senat certainly needs all the reps he can get, and he’s missing them now.
- Jimmy Smith did some work on the side early on in practice with Brandon Carr, but amazingly actually got into a few of the 11 on 11 drills by the end of practice. He’s certainly taking it slow and easy, as he eases back from a torn Achilles, but being in on 11v11 drills Day 1 is a big step
- Marshal Yanda remains on PUP, but Harbaugh shed some more light on his situation, revealing that in addition to the ankle injury he was rehabbing from last year, Yanda also had shoulder surgery earlier in the offseason. Still on track to be back by Week 1, and Harbaugh added that IF this was Week 1 today, Yanda would likely play, but certainly a situation that we may have to keep an eye on as Yanda gets older and is starting to deal with some nagging injury issues
- I was sitting by the defense most of the day, so I missed a lot of the WR/TE/QB work, but I definitely saw less flutter on Lamar Jackson’s passes than showed up on replays from minicamps. Jackson had some real good throws today and a REALLY good elusion on a sack that was whistled early (Want to avoid contact), but he was still alive and looking down field
- To that note, I liked that I saw Joe Flacco working off with Michael Crabtree one on one when they weren’t involved in the 11v11 drills. Say what you will about Flacco and if/how often he got together with his WRs, but it looks like he is working to get the rhythms down with his top guys early on
- Breshad Perriman will have his roster bonus picked up as he tries to earn a spot, but shocker, he dropped a pass in non-contact drills today. The crowd reacted as you would expect.
- When I arrived about 40 minutes before practice began, the first guy out on the field was Tim White, who was running sprints by himself. And he was one of the last guys off the field at the end. That certainly shows some of the dedication to earning a spot
- While it is too early to declare 1st Team or Starters, a few guys I noticed getting paired up with the big names
- The 1st Team OL seemed to be Stanley-Lewis-Skura-Hurst-Brown Jr. This is a variation on what we saw in the last minicamp, which was Hurst at LG, Skura at RG, and Lewis at C.
- Willie Henry and Brent Urban seemed to rotate pairing with Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce. I would expect them to rotate those two situationally.
- Kamalei Correa is fully working as an OLB, as he was grouped with Judon, Bowser, and Myles Humphrey, while the ILB group was Mosley, Onwuasor, McClellan, Young, Alvin Jones, and CJ Board
- The mood of the club certainly seems upbeat, as I saw at various times: Suggs humping a trash can, Brandon Williams getting a trashcan put over his head (willingly), and several cheers from the team on big plays in 11v11 (The defense even seemed to cheer a tough catch made against them in one series)
- Justin Tucker clanked a FG attempt of about 50 yards at one point during practice. Seeing as I was watching him earlier bang them from 70, I am not concerned.
- The Ravens did seem to employ a fair bit of 2 QB packages while practicing, so it seems like they are working to install some creative plays to get Jackson or RG3 on the field with Joe. I like this development.
PLAY OF THE DAY – Early on in 11v11 drills, Lamar Jackson flicked a long bomb that was caught by Jordan Lasley for a TD. It was mostly yards in the air, not yards after the catch.
TRAINING CAMP REVIEW (A FAN’S PERSPECTIVE)
Before I go into my review, I should touch on the truth that today was DAY 1 of this experience. The team hasn’t had to accommodate 2,000 fans at the Castle before. Last year, except for three Stadium Practices, they didn’t accommodate fans at all. I can appreciate that this operation has a lot of pieces, a lot of moving parts, and like a new restaurant opening, will take some time to get it totally right.
I arrived at the facility about 5 minutes after the “Gates Opened” and by that point, there were probably at least 150-200 fans already there. I’m not sure if the Ravens had allowed fans to enter before the official “Gate Entry” time, but by the time we got in, they were directing people to park on a large flat grass area that had been spraypainted in a “parking lot grid”. Mind you, this is NOT the Overflow Parking that the team cautions about, which is located at nearby Northwest Regional Park and is accessed by shuttle bus. I’m not sure if the Ravens plan to eventually pave this area, but my first observation was “Wow, either the place is already packed, or Plan A was to park the extra fans on a grass lot from the get-go”. A little odd, but I have to give a lot of credit to the HUGE number of event staff who were keeping traffic and directions flowing in a very informative manner. Once you proceed to the facility, you register with a staff member (I suspect partially that this is for promotions and mailing list reasons, but also partially to have a physical register of the people on site at any time) at one of 6 stations and are given wristbands (One for adults, one for kids 6-14 who can get autographs at the end). You go through a mild security check (Keys, Cell Phones out, bag check, etc), and then you are in. That process ran very smoothly because, again, the Ravens had a number of staff ready to accommodate a large rush of people entering. You are also given a water bottle and a roster card upon entering (The roster card is common, the water bottle was a nice touch, as it can be a defacto souvenir for the kids, and even be used to get autographs in a pinch)
Once you are in, you can choose from 3 sets of bleachers to sit on. It should have been obvious to me to go to the largest set, which is located by the “Fan Zone”, but instead I chose the bleachers with a view across the 3 fields stacked side-by-side. This wasn’t a bad place to sit, as it gives you a nice closeup look at the fields where some of the individual drills are done, but you miss out on the team drills from there. In any case, each set of bleachers has a water station with it, so you can fill your water bottle with cold water, and a “bathroom truck” which seems to be a step above spot-a-pots. The large bleacher along the main team field (Which runs perpendicular to the 3 side-by-side fields) has a grass area in between the roped off field area and the bleacher seating, which is open for “grass sitting”. You aren’t allowed to stand there, as it would block the view from the bleachers, but it seems a nice alternative if you want to get close and don’t care about being in the blazing sun.
There is also a Fan Zone there which has the usual things found at a stadium practice (Kids activities like a moon bounce slide and a passing game, DD and M&T Bank promotional booths, a Team Store, a place to buy food from). Once nice touch, which was leftover from the time I was able to go to Camp in 2013, was free popsicles to ALL in attendance. They didn’t even ask questions, as one guy asked for about 5 for himself as he was “getting them for his kids”. That’s certainly nice on a hot day.
The creme de la creme is, of course, the personal touch that you get from the players. At the stadium practices, there’s some light playfulness from guys going over to the first row and hamming it up with fans, but the main interaction only comes during autographs with the kids. Both times I have been to the Castle, Terrell Suggs has come over to the bleachers and invited all the kids to come up and give him a fist bump. That touch to me is a great example of why he is truly the team captain now, and also why getting Camp back to being an open fan experience is so great. Unfortunately, one thing you have to be careful of is the “No Cameras” policy. I was aware of this from my previous time, but the Ravens are a bit concerned with the potential of rival teams getting pictures or videos of their practice and scurrying back to get an inside edge (Like that will help you get a win, Cleveland…lol). As a result, from the moment the first practice horn sounds, ALL CELL PHONE AND CAMERAS ARE PROHIBITED. How serious are they about this rule? I saw several examples of people who had hands to their ears where security came over and checked to see if it was a phone, or just a head propping individual. I also overheard a gentleman who had a selfie stick setup and they actually had him open his Gallery and delete the pictures he had taken. This is a serious thing, and you should know this BEFORE you come in. Take as many pictures as you can BEFORE and AFTER. Once the team breaks huddle at the end, cameras are permitted out again.
The final thing I’ll mention is the autograph policy. Some don’t like it, but I love it. I remember a stadium practice in 2011, before the autograph policy was in place, where my son who was only 4 at the time was crowded out by adults carrying BAGS of team apparel that they were loading up with autographs. Finally, out of pity, one guy grabbed my son’s football and handed it down, where we couldn’t even see the player autographing it (Turned out to be Cecil Newton, Cam’s brother who was briefly a Center with us). With the policy restricting autographs to kids, it really captures who the players WANT to be signing for. Kids are allowed to lineup 20-30 minutes before practice ends behind the bleachers by the Fan Zone. With practice close to wrapping up, they are paraded around the back of the practice fields to a roped off area by the Castle leading up to the locker room. In a very nice touch, parents are allowed to go with their kids, separating to go into another bleacher area just above the roped off area. This allows you to keep an eye on your child, and also for you to get some prime pictures of the players. The staff is keeping a watchful eye to make sure no parent is “handing things off” to their child too, so make sure your child has an item to be autographed before you separate. And as a final word, my hat goes off to those players because, literally, they gave these kids the shirts off their backs. My son was fortunate enough to get Kai Nacua’s gloves, he was able to convince Matt Judon, who was CLEARLY tired and ready to hit the showers, to come back and sign for him and the other kids with him (Judon hammed it up with them for awhile, contemplating if he should sign for them or not, clearly having fun with them). The most noteworthy one I will mention is Lamar Jackson. Most players sign for about 20-25 minutes and only hit a portion of the line. Jackson signed for nearly 45 minutes, stopping to pose for pictures with just about EVERY one who asked, and signing for nearly the whole line. I know rookies are the ones most likely to be catering to the fans, especially the younger ones, but he showed a real excitement and candor with the kids to make sure nearly EVERYONE got a chance to interact with him. For a fan like me, that move does not go unnoticed.
Overall, I feel like the Ravens probably have some logistical things to work out with Public Camp. Hopefully, they can keep ironing out the parking situation (Yes, it was really a minor thing, but if there is ever a day it rains a bit, that grass lot will become a parking nightmare), and maybe be a bit more informative about which drills might be at which fields. I feel like they did a good job of informing of the No Cameras policy, but they may need to be a bit more direct on that to make sure fans understand (Heard a lot of bitching and moaning around me about how they can do it at the Stadium, which is a whole different type of practice). But for every gripe or complaint I could try to think up, there are about 3-4 things the Ravens staff did that made me feel like this is a team that is honestly and truthfully looking for ways to impress and accommodate their fans. I was harsh on the team in the early years of camp at the facility, feeling like they were alienating the fans who had appreciated that close connection. But I have to admit in a major way, the Ravens are looking to get back in the graces of the fans with the Public Camp at the facility. Even for Day 1, they knocked it out of the damn park.