Carnell Lake won't soon forget the timing of his arrival with the Ravens.
The safety, who is in his 13th year, was taking his team physical Tuesday morning when he learned of hijacked planes crashing into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon. The tragedy sent a shiver through Lake, because he was flying from his Jacksonville, Fla., home only the previous night.
"I thought anyone flying in and around that time - through no fault of their own, just being in the wrong place at the wrong time - could have been on one of those flights," Lake said.
Lake, 34, who missed all of last season with a foot injury, passed his physical that day and signed a one-year deal worth just more than the veteran minimum of $477,000. A five-time Pro Bowl selection, he was released by the Jacksonville Jaguars due to salary-cap reasons Sept. 2 and was in contact with the Ravens a few days later.
Though he has been backing up at safety and nickel back in his first week of practice, there have been hints he could press strong safety Corey Harris for playing time later this season. Lake's integration into the Ravens' defensive scheme has been eased by his ties with defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and safety Rod Woodson from his days with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"It's still early, but you can clearly see he knows the system, which is a huge plus," Ravens coach Brian Billick said. "He can pick this up very, very quickly, which allows him to have more of an impact this first week coming up than what you might otherwise thought.
"Physically, he's moving around very well. Obviously, when you add someone of that stature to this team, you've got to be a measure better."
Lake's focus remains on that elusive piece of his career - a league title - after playing in four AFC championship games and one Super Bowl. That's why he is content with his current reserve position with the defending champions.
"That's my role right now," Lake said. "If I have to be a backup, I'll do that. I just want to continue to play football and want to be with a winning organization. I want to try to get a ring, and, for me, this is the best place to be."
Throughout his career, Lake has been known for his versatility and durability.
A second-round pick by the Steelers in 1989, he made a seamless transition from a first-team All-America outside linebacker at UCLA to safety in Pittsburgh. In the Steelers' Super Bowl season in 1995, he shifted from safety to cornerback, replacing Woodson after he suffered a knee injury.
During those changes, Lake was a constant in the lineup, missing just six games from 1989 to '99 and starting all 16 games eight times. But he played the 1999 season - his first year with the Jaguars - with a stress fracture in a small bone near his ankle, which eventually sidelined him all of last season.
Injuries slowed Lake's progress at the start of this year's training camp, too. He pulled a hamstring, preventing him from getting his legs into football shape until the end of preseason.
"He's kind of floating in the same boat I am," said Ravens right tackle Leon Searcy, who was Lake's teammate in Pittsburgh and Jacksonville. "We're both dedicated to our profession, but we just have had nagging injuries that have set us back the past years. But knowing Carnell the way I know him, he's a workaholic and he's going to shine through any type of adversity."
Lake has only one response for those questioning his ability to return to his Pro Bowl level.
"My play will speak for itself," said Lake, an All-Pro in 1999. "Whether I can do it or I can't do it, one way or another it's going to show up."
NOTES: One of the first Ravens to take action in the wake of the terrorist attacks was Edwin Mulitalo. The starting left guard donated blood last week at the American Red Cross. "Just as a person, I felt a lot better," he said. "The longer and longer I watched TV, the more depressed I got." ... The Ravens were off yesterday and will resume their normal practice schedule today with a team meeting. The coaching staff will begin installing its game plan for the Cincinnati Bengals today.