On what was one of the hottest days in recent memory, the Baltimore Ravens began the first of three days of mandatory mini-camp, marking the return of many key veterans such as Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata and Elvis Dumervil to team facilities. "The staging ground for training camp," as coach Harbaugh put it, got off to a quick start, with the team finishing up fifteen minutes early.
In several brief appearances before the media, Ngata and Dumervil, along with Harbaugh and Dennis Pitta took the stage to address several key questions facing the team entering the young 2014 season.
Haloti Ngata a Raven for life?
It is no secret around the Ravens world that defensive lineman Haloti Ngata's contract, and subsequently his tenure with the Ravens, is in question after this upcoming season. His cap hit is a massive $16 million in 2014 and he will enter a contract year in 2015. Reports earlier this offseason claimed he turned down a "lucrative" long-term deal from the Ravens but were later said to be false.
Regardless, when posed with the question of his contract on Tuesday, Ngata expressed a desire to remain with the team. "I would love to be a Raven for life," the lineman stated. "I'll let my agent and Ozzie get that sorted out."
It remains to be seen if the numbers will ever fall into place, or if Ngata will be willing to restructure a la Suggs.
Team looking healthy
Another item of note for Ngata has been his health. The lineman and his teammates worked to alleviate any concerns with linebacker Elvis Dumervil stating, "the big guy looks good."
After a relatively down year in 2013, Ngata is looking to stay healthy and get after the quarterback. "Last year was definitely a down year on sacks," he said, later expressing a desire to reach "double digit sacks" for the first time in his career.
Offensive lineman Jah Reid, who has been on the wrong side of the law this offseason, is looking to get back on the right side of the offense. With the right tackle position potentially up for grabs, Harbaugh seemed confident that Reid would be healthy and in the mix. "Jah continues to get better," Harbaugh affirmed. "He'll definitely be ready for camp."
Also on Harbaugh's radar is outside linebacker and 2011 Defensive Player of the Year, Terrell Suggs, who the head coach singled out as the returning veteran most deserving of praise for his offseason conditioning away from the team.
Finally, Dennis Pitta, who is still looking to get back to full speed following a serious hip injury on the first day of last years training camp, spoke of his own recovery.
When pressed about his level of discomfort, Pitta expressed that he feels "good" and is not worried about the hip "at all." The tight end went further to say he no longer thinks about the injury during practice and is beginning to be able to perform at the level he was accustomed to prior to the injury. He will likely need to if the offense is to grow with new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak after it's tumultuous 2013 campaign.
The ongoing installation of the new offensive scheme is a top priority for Ravens players and coaches as they continue to march closer to the regular season.
The new look offensive line, which Harbaugh argued was "hard to evaluate" sans-pads is looking to gel in the Kubiak's zone-blocking while the whole unit is looking to familiarize itself with the system.
On discussing this, Pitta referred to the work as a "learning curve," going on to call it a "fun offense to be a part of for a tight end." He continued to express the teams confidence in their new weapons such as tight end Owen Daniels.
"Owen has been a huge compliment to what we're doing here." Pitta went on to describe the veteran Daniels as "critical" for his own development and knowledge of the play book.
Likewise, rookie tight end and third round draft pick, Crockett Gilmore, received praise from Pitta for his physicality. "He's a tough football player. He's big and physical. He's a great blocker at the point of attack."
As Harbaugh puts it, we will "find out when the pads come on."
New Corners Work Out for Team, Two Players Waived
One of the biggest areas of need for a defense that is looking to build speed and athleticism is the third cornerback. After Corey Graham's departure the Ravens have looked for discarded talent to fill the void. Cornerbacks Drayton Florence, Aaron Ross, Maurquice Cole, Kevin Thomas and Dominique Franks all worked out for the team Tuesday to inconclusive results.
Harbaugh expressed a hope for results from the group, saying that "they all looked good." But, as with the lineman, nothing is certain at the moment. "We'll go back to the tape."
Coach Harbaugh also took the time to confirm that the releases of receiver Aaron Mellette and linebacker Adrian Hamilton were due to failed physicals. He did, however, seem to leave the door open for those players voicing interest in monitoring their respective statuses and "see where they're at" in a couple of weeks.
In the mean time their spaces can be left open for more veteran depth which Harbaugh said the team would continue to "take a look at the guys who are available."
The Improving Defense
In addition to talk of Haloti Hgata, the presser saw discussions of the improving defense as a whole. Ngata expressed a desire to be "more vocal" and to "get out of [his] comfort zone" in order to help the unit from a leadership position.
The team is likewise looking to build continuity from last season, with Harbaugh pointing to the "high expectations" for a defense that Dumervil called "more comfortable" as compared to last year, his first with the team.
Dumervil, refusing to point to any specific areas, alluded to an overall need for improvement. "We could do better in all phases," a sentiment he shared in regards to his own game. The linebacker also stated that he has "gained a few pounds" in order to adjust to the hard hitting AFC North.