More Ravens: Keeping their focus through controversy
WESTMINSTER, Md. – The Baltimore Ravens are facing a potentially big problem with wide receiver Mark Clayton, the team's first-round pick in 2005. The issue is significant enough that the Ravens have discussed making an offer for Broncos wide receiver Ashley Lelie and will likely look into acquiring Oakland's Jerry Porter.
Clayton is still suffering from a nagging hamstring injury that bugged him for most of last season. He had 44 catches despite the problem, but he has already missed time in the first week of training camp. Clayton is critical for the Ravens because he is the only receiver with proven ability to turn a short pass into a game-breaker.
Clayton didn't practice Wednesday and left practice early to see a doctor. His explanation was that he has an "alignment" problem with his back and torso.
Coach Brian Billick thinks Clayton will eventually find a training and stretching routine to deal with the injury. That sounds good and all, but finding such solutions in training camp is never easy.
Billick said it's probably a little early for serious discussions about Lelie. Stay tuned.
Running back Jamal Lewis is in decent shape and looks ready to return to his old form after a frustrating 2005 season. Running backs coach Tony Nathan believes Lewis wasn't patient enough on plays and tried to make too much happen last year.
Billick thinks even he was guilty of a Pollyanna approach to last season, when Lewis was both recovering from injury and serving prison time.
"I probably lead the list of people who were naive enough to think he could rehab and be in prison, basically miss training camp and come in and have a good year," Billick said. "That was asking too much and I was as guilty as anyone saying, 'Yeah, yeah, he'll be fine.' "
Linebacker Ray Lewis believes he's playing with a franchise quarterback for the first time in his 11-year career. His excitement is obvious, particularly after watching the game from a distance last season when he missed 10 games with a hamstring injury.
"He's here now and we can look at the other side and not have a guy who has to catch on to the system of the NFL and learn the speed of the NFL. We don't have to do that now," Lewis said. "We have an MVP on our team, we have a warrior, we have a leader. We have that all on one side of the ball and that's something we have never had around here for 11 years and that's frustrating.
"For me to hold that in for 11 years, I think I've been pretty good. I'm telling you it was starting to wear and tear. And when you're removed from it, that's when you really start to tell, sit back and say, "Wow.' It was simple for me and it was like I expressed to the owner, 'I'm only here for one reason – to win. That's it.' "
Speaking of McNair, he was hoping to be a significant mentor for rookie and close friend Vince Young, the No. 3 overall pick by Tennessee, McNair's former team. "Me and him still call each other father and son," McNair said. "We’re opposition now so I can't help him as much. But we still talk football and I help guide him through some personal stuff."
Defensive line coach Clarence Brooks deserves props for turning some otherwise limited talents into solid players over the years. Included in that group are Lorenzo Bromell, David Bowens and Kenny Mixon. The latest was Maake Kemoeatu, a nose tackle who signed one of the first big free agent contracts of the offseason as he left Baltimore for Carolina. This year, Brooks gets No. 11 overall pick Haloti Ngata to mold. Could be interesting.
Quarterback Kyle Boller is now the backup to McNair after being the starter last season. There have been alternate opinions on how well Boller has managed the situation, some people saying he's doing great and others saying the disappointment is obvious.
Count Billick among the positive thinkers.
"Is he pissed off? Sure he is. Is he dysfunctional or disruptive? No," Billick said of Boller. "He is developing a relationship with Steve, he's working hard and his whole attitude is that when he gets his opportunity, he's going to make the most of it in a very positive, upbeat way."
Boller finished a recent practice with two interceptions and nearly a third pick on his final four passes. However, Billick said the reason was that the same young receiver kept making mistakes on different plays.