"In March and April, it was kind of nice to be able to stay at home, but once minicamp rolled around and you missed minicamp, it got a little weird," the Ravens outside linebacker said Monday, a few hours after NFL players agreed with owners on a 10-year collective bargaining agreement. "And then definitely, once you started to get into the summertime and you couldn't talk to your coaches, it got a little stressful. So I'm glad it's over. I'm ready to get back to work."
Several Ravens players took to Twitter to express their reaction to the return to football. Five minutes after cornerback Domonique Foxworth (Foxworth24) wrote at 1:54 p.m., "Big smile! Footballs back, footballs back( @LilTunechi voice) unanimous vote." Wide receiver Donte Stallworth (DonteStallworth) wrote, "LET'S GO BABY!!!!! WE'RE BAAAAAAAAAAAAAAACK!!!!!!!!"
At 2:06 p.m., rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith (TorreySmithWR) wrote, "FOOTBALLS BACK!!!! FOOTBALLS BACK!!!!" Then at 2:30 p.m., rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith (RealJimmySmith) wrote, "On my way to bmore now."
Johnson said the itch to return to business as usual got especially noticeable in July.
"I went to a pass-rush camp in Atlanta and did some training to substitute missing minicamp, but really, July was the toughest," he said. "That's when you get your itinerary of what camp is going to be, when it starts. I have yet to talk to any of our coaches, so it's still kind of weird. But I'm just going to be in Baltimore and see when things get started."
Players are expected to report to the team's facility in Owings Mills on Tuesday when many will take physicals and other medical tests. Training camp begins on Wednesday, and the Ravens are scheduled to visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Thursday, Aug. 11 in the preseason opener for both teams.
The end of the lockout is especially meaningful for the team's 14 free agents, which includes wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Houshmandzadeh, who was claimed by the club after his release by the Seattle Seahawks just a few days prior to last year's regular-season opener, called this year "the worst year to be a free agent."
"For me, you kind of had to focus on what was next and what was next was unknown," said Houshmandzadeh, who ranked fifth among the Ravens in catches (30) and receiving yards (398) last season. "So you just tried to keep your body in the best shape possible and just be ready to go. This is probably the worst year to be a free agent, but it is what it is. Hopefully, one of the 32 still thinks I can play, and then I'll go show them that I can. But it's been tough to be a free agent. Training camp is going to start this week, and so I'm almost assured of starting behind again. So it's just a matter of playing catch-up and doing what you can."
Another free agent, safety Dawan Landry, ranked second on the team in tackles with a career-best 111, but the Ravens have shown a tendency to let Ed Reed's playing partners test the free-agent market.
Landry acknowledged a certain amount of anxiety as the lockout extended into July and further threw into doubt his future.
"I'm just praying about it," Landry said.
Aside from addressing the free agents, the Ravens must prepare for the upcoming season without the benefit of minicamps and offseason workouts and acclimating their rookies quickly. Johnson, however, said a full training camp gives the team enough cushion to ready for the season opener against AFC North foe the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 11.
"I think by coming into camp, we're going to have enough time to be ready," he said. "The minicamps are a loss, but they're not a huge loss. When it's the midseason and you're fighting for the division lead, you're not reflecting back to what you learned in minicamp. Now for the rookies, it is going to be tough, especially if those rookies are expected to play. But for veterans, it's not that big of a loss. But if we get two solid weeks of training camp and then four preseason games, that's plenty of time to get ready for the regular season."
Johnson, Landry and Houshmandzadeh agreed that not losing games would probably help the sport retain its fans. Houshmandzadeh said he spent time talking to fans during a vacation at DisneyWorld and his children's softball tournaments.
"As long as we didn't miss games, I think the fans are fine, and that's from my experience of talking with fans and just being around them," he said. "As long as they get football, from the conversations and messages that I got and had with fans, they were going to be fine."