"I watched and thought, 'Whoa, man, are you serious?'" guard Jason Brown said. "The guy has tremendous man-strength."

Rookies don't last on brawn alone. Some succumb to the stress of the job. In the pros, the game is more mental than physical, said Marshal Yanda, the Ravens' rookie tackle.

"Every week, you're playing guys who were better than anyone you faced in college," Yanda said. "You don't get a break. Every night, I go home to recover."

Gaither's relief? A chef's hat and a puppy named Dot.

"Cooking relaxes me," he said. "And I always wanted a dog."

The other night, he had just taken a chocolate cake from the oven when Le'Ron McClain stopped by.

"I'm glad I was there to help him eat it," the rookie fullback said.

Gaither's pals include McClain and Troy Smith, the rookie quarterback. They hang out together, play video games, watch The Boondocks on TV and talk.

About what?

"Personal stuff," Gaither said. "I opened up to them right away."

Gaither and Smith might seem the odd couple - a college dropout and a Heisman Trophy winner - but they have become fast friends.

"Real recognizes real," Smith said. "To meet someone like Jared and form a bond on such short notice is incredible. If I need something dear, I can call on him.

"Being from the area, he took me under his wing. Baltimore being a rough environment, he told me the places to go and where not to go, and the people to talk to and not talk to.

"He has been more help than any of those rookie [lifestyle] seminars," Smith said.

Said Gaither: "I'm kind of protective of my little [backfield] guys. I'm there for them 24/7."

His expectations for this season were nil, Gaither said.

"I came in with an open mind so I wouldn't be either disappointed or overzealous," he said. "That way, whatever is happening, I can say, 'Cool, let's roll with it.'

"I've learned to sit back and observe. The first time I met [Ogden], I had to keep from being star-struck and saying, 'Tell me everything you know.'

"Instead, I watch how [veterans] operate and take bits and pieces from them that I can use myself."

Nothing beats staying on an even keel, Gaither said.

"You hit highs and lows every day," he said. "Guys worry all the time about getting cut. The key is to focus, to play football.

"You can't let the business side of the NFL take away the passion and love you have for the game."

mike.klingaman@baltsun.com