After an unpredictable Ravens’ offseason that included a major injury to one of their best players, a slew or free agent exits and the threat of holdouts from two of their Pro Bowl performers, Ravens coach John Harbaugh greeted reporters Tuesday looking tanned, well-rested and relaxed.
“It’s been a good few weeks,” said Harbaugh, flashing a wide smile.
The Ravens will hold their first full-team practice of training camp Thursday with plenty of question marks, but far fewer distractions than they were poised to have several weeks ago.
Ray Rice, their best offensive player and one of the top all-purpose weapons in the NFL, was at the Under Armour Performance Center on Tuesday a week removed from getting a five-year contract extension that makes him one of the highest paid running backs in football. Quarterback Joe Flacco, who spread passes around to a plethora of young receivers during the hour-long practice, has yet to get the contract extension that he seeks, but there has been enough progress made where it now appears to be a matter of when — rather than if — he gets his new deal.
While reigning NFL Player of the Year Terrell Suggs remains sidelined and will miss a good part —if not all of the 2012 season — Harbaugh revealed that his team is mostly healthy heading into training camp, and two of the previously bigger concerns — rookie guard Kelechi Osemele (back spasms) and second-year defensive end Pernell McPhee (knee surgery) — are expected to return to practice soon.
And then there’s the status of safety Ed Reed, who spent the offseason hinting at retirement or an extended holdout in a series of radio interviews. Harbaugh said he spoke to the perennial Pro Bowl safety recently and he fully expects Reed to report to training camp with the rest of the Ravens’ veterans Wednesday.
“Ed Reed plans on being here,” said Harbaugh following a partial-squad practice attended by quarterbacks, rookies and select veterans. “I talked with Ed. I had a great conversation and I’m looking forward to seeing him.”
Reed, an eight-time Pro Bowler, didn’t show up to the veteran mandatory minicamp and had talked about feeling disrespected by the Ravens as he entered the final year on his contract. The situation between the Ravens and one of the franchise’s greatest players had the potential to get ugly but it appears that Reed is willing to put the issues behind him. He told the crowd at his charity golf tournament last week that he plans to play his 11th NFL season.
There was also the potential for a standoff between the Ravens and Rice, who would have been in line to play the season under the franchise tag before the two sides reached a five-year, $35 million deal before last Monday’s deadline to sign designated franchise players.
“It means we’ll have Ray here for a long period of time which is a great thing,” Harbaugh said. “Congratulations to Ray. I thought both sides did a great job getting the deal done. Nobody was happier than me, except for Ray. It’s just great for everybody.”
And that includes veteran center Matt Birk who was one lineman to help pave the way for Rice to gain an NFL-high 2,068 yards from scrimmage last year and a franchise-record 15 touchdowns.
“I guess it’s nice. You don’t have to answer those questions, and it’s great for Ray,” Birk said. “On a personal level, I think to a man, everybody’s happy for him because he’s a hard-working guy, a great guy to have in the locker room, a great talent, all those things. It’s always nice when the right people have success. So we’re happy for him, and I’m sure he’s happy and just focused on football.”
Birk had surgery this offseason to repair a varicose veins problem in his legs. However, he participated fully in Tuesday’s workout that included only four Ravens watching from the sidelines.
McPhee, who finished second on the team to Suggs with six sacks last year and figured to step into a more prominent role after the departure of starting defensive end Cory Redding, had his knee scoped earlier this offseason but he’s making progress and Harbaugh hopes that he can start practicing “very, very soon.”
Osemele, the rookie second-round pick who was expected to compete with veteran Bobbie Williams for the left guard job, has been dealing with muscle spasms in his back but he should be removed from the physically unable to perform list and resume practicing by the end of the week.
“We’re just going to take it easy, just make sure we’re OK with that, but he’s looking really good,” Harbaugh said. “As we go through these couple of days, he should be able to practice very, very soon, hopefully [Wednesday] or Thursday.”
Beyond Suggs, the only current longer-term absences will likely be reserve tackle Jah Reid who re-strained his right calf, an injury he initially sustained at the veteran mandatory minicamp, and wide receiver/kick returner David Reed who tore an anterior cruciate ligament in a game last December. Harbaugh said that it would be a “huge upset” if Reed returned during training camp, but the coach said that the third-year receiver is progressing quickly.
The Ravens, who are a little more than $3 million under the salary cap, also continue to look for ways to augment their depth. Tuesday they brought in veteran guard Eric Steinbach, a former Cincinnati Bengal and Cleveland Brown who missed all of last season with a back injury, and several outside linebackers.
“It’s like we say every year, we’re always looking for players, we’re always looking to upgrade,” Harbaugh said. “If you have an opportunity where good players are available, we’re going to try and take a look at them. We’re going to try and make the roster better any way we can at any time. If we can create even better competition and put more good players in the mix with the kind of financial resources that we have, we always want to do that. Eric Steinbach is a heck of a player. I don’t know where we stand but we’re going to look for any good player we can at any time.”