Well, check off another first. On Friday, I made my first visit to St. Louis and the Rams facility. Yesterday, the scene was Owings Mills, Md., where the Ravens practice. If you haven’t seen the castle, it’s a sight to behold. It would be tough for me to imagine a more scenic spot to hold a football practice. Also, they have a putting green out front. Awesome.
But what about all the other stuff about the trip to Baltimore? Glad you asked…
Want some highlights?
Overall impression: The Ravens aren’t newcomers to winning and being successful, and it’s clear their methods work for them. That said, I was struck by how fast-paced the practice was. There were no pads and nobody was stickin’ out there, but it was all at a high-tempo. Coach John Harbaugh says the word “walk-through” is banned, and it’s obvious why. Players were tugging jerseys, knocking each other down, the whole deal. If I ever wondered why the Ravens play like they do, this explains it. As I was told yesterday, Baltimore’s padded practices are at an even faster pace. Man, I can only imagine how shell shocked the rookies are.
Spotlight on… Courtney Upshaw: All eyes were on the No. 35 pick, the Ravens highest, and the injury to stud pass-rusher Terrell Suggs only made it even more. I wrote some about Upshaw yesterday, and it won’t be the last item typed about how he’ll be trying to help the team make up for the loss of Suggs. But I’m also fascinated by Upshaw as a prospect. Short with short arms, he doesn’t have prototype size. He’s not a great athlete, and if you like his speed, you say he’s deceptively fast. He needs to lose some weight, and he has embraced that – thankfully. Before the draft, I couldn’t figure out if he’d be a successful NFL player, and I’m still not sure. I also remember thinking I didn’t believe LaMarr Woodley would thrive for some of the same reasons, and we know how that went. Pittsburgh was perfect for him. The Ravens love Upshaw because of his nastiness and because of how proficient he is at getting off blocks. Tough to teach those things. In this system, they’ll be able to take advantage of his skills while not putting him in coverage (too much) to exploit his weaknesses. Will he be good? I don’t know. But he’s in a better position in Baltimore than if he went somewhere else. I won’t bet against him.
Best food choice: I knew crab cakes were happening at some point, and there they were Sunday night. The place I wanted to go – Duda’s Tavern – was closed so I settled for Bertha’s Mussels. Man, they were tremendous. I loved how basic they were. No filler. Just crab and some seasoning. They gave me sauce and some Old Bay, but I’m not sure I needed it. They were awesome. The only downside was the terrible (and trashed) Irish band playing in back. Ugh.
Best random occurrence: I expected to spend Saturday night bumming around Baltimore’s Inner Harbor solo, catching the Orioles game and checking it out. But a high school buddy saw that I had posted my location on Facebook and sent me a message. Don’t you love social media? Turns out he was in the Washington, D.C. area with another of our old friends, and they were going out. How could I turn that down? Great to see Russ and Brent in D.C., and even better when we went to this hole-in-the-wall bar called “Touchdown” to watch the Rangers-Capitals game. I loved it when the Rangers won, and the crowd made an immediate shift and started chanting “RGIII! RGIII!” Man, can’t football season get here yet?
Best travel oddity: I’m probably the only one who cares about this, but I got in my rental car and it had six miles on it. Not 60. Six. The key was still in its plastic. It drove like a regular car, and soon it wasn’t so new. It was just weird to see a car have 6 miles. Wonder why a rental car company gets a completely unused car…
Best cameo appearance: This was kinda cool… The winning trainer from the Kentucky Derby Doug O’Neill visited Ravens practice and hung around to do interviews. He was soaking it up, even though he grew up a Lions fans. He referred to his horse “I’ll Have Another” as a “four-legged Joe Flacco,” which drew all sorts of snide comments on Twitter (nice job, guys). “What an honor to have the training staff of the champion here,” coach John Harbaugh said.
Best disclosure: Rookie receiver Tommy Streeter has been training with Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis, and the two products of The U have been getting after it. Streeter was talking about this yesterday when he explained what one sign in Ray’s house reads: “ ’Pain is a gift from God.’ ” Awesome. Man, Ray has definitely been dishing out some gifts from God over the years, huh?