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Ravens give young teammates a taste of NFL life

FootballVeterans AffairsDefense

Formal introductions were in order Tuesday when 27 Ravens — new and old — convened at overcast Johnny Unitas Stadium for the purpose of getting a handful of rookies up to NFL speed.

Torrey Smith, the team's second-round draft choice from Maryland, looked the part of a play-making receiver in limited drills, quick-stepping through his pass routes and catching all but one ball thrown to him.

"Nice little workout with the guys," Smith said when the two-hour conditioning workout was done. "Got to learn personalities and it was great, getting the feeling of being around the guys and our new team. [But] it was kind of a tease [with the lockout]. It was a dream come true to be able to play with these guys, and the possibility of that not being able to happen after you already experienced it is going to hurt a little bit."

Against a backdrop of the NFL's two-month old lockout, a select group of Ravens launched their own version of rookie indoctrination for four draft picks and one free agent rookie. Conspicuous by his absence was cornerback Jimmy Smith, the Ravens' first-round choice who underwent considerable pre-draft scrutiny for his reported failed drug tests and alcohol issues.

Torrey Smith, who vouched for Jimmy Smith during an introductory news conference in April, said the cornerback was still in Los Angeles.

"I talked to him last week, but there weren't as many defensive players as offensive players coming," the receiver said. "The guys he talked to said they weren't coming."

Jimmy Smith apparently didn't talk to Domonique Foxworth or Josh Wilson, because both cornerbacks were at Towson University for the first of three days of closed workouts, supervised by Mac James of Athletic Dominance. So were safety Haruki Nakamura and linebackers Jarret Johnson and Jameel McClain.

Altogether, there were 15 offensive players, nine defensive and three specialists at the workout.

What the lockout has wrought is a climate of cooperation at the player level. Quarterback Joe Flacco drove wide receiver Tandon Doss (fourth-round pick), quarterback Tyrod Taylor (sixth) and Smith to and from the workout. He stayed at the same hotel to facilitate quicker absorption of the Ravens' ponderous playbook and help the rookies get into the flow.

"The biggest thing about getting out here right now is with these young guys," Flacco said. "The guys who are missing out the most right now are the young guys. They're not going to be able to get in and have a guy go over the playbook with them and come out here on the field and get a real feel for how to run the routes.

"I want them to walk away from this with an understanding of how we call our routes and can they recognize where they line up and which route they're going to have. As long as they have those basics, I think they can grow off of that."

The Ravens want to utilize Smith's deep speed in the passing game and incorporate Doss into their underneath routes. If the lockout extends into — and possibly through — training camp, the opportunity for rookies to be ready for the season is diminished.

"It's going to hurt," Smith said. "It's just a matter of how much and how quick you can pick it up. It's definitely going to hurt. Just like anything else, you've got to practice to get more repetitions in order to perfect your craft. If you don't have the time, it's not going to be the same."

Running back Ray Rice, a three-year veteran, can empathize better than most. He was a second-round pick in 2008 and wound up splitting time with veteran Willis McGahee. A year later, Rice amassed 2,041 yards from scrimmage and made the Pro Bowl.

Rice went out of his way Tuesday to help seventh-round pick Anthony Allen and free agent running back Walter Sanders with their routes. As with other veterans, Rice planned to meet later with the rookies to give them more help.

"Those are the guys I really feel for because my rookie experience was obviously totally different than these guys' rookie experience," Rice said. "I feel for those guys. But with a veteran team, anybody who is a rookie on our team, the Ravens will take care of them. That's the kind of team we are."

At the other end of the spectrum, McClain made the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2008, the only one who made the roster that year. Two seasons later, he earned a starting job at inside linebacker. Making the team under similar circumstances this year will be a test of perseverance, he said.

"That's going to be difficult because you don't know what to expect," McClain said. "You don't know what curveballs are going to be thrown at you, you haven't gotten a chance to get into the playbook. … But they can do it. If you're strong enough to go through the process, you can make it on your own."

ken.murray@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kenmurraysun

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