Baltimore City

Fans return to M&T Bank Stadium for Ravens' first open practice

Football returned to M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on a beautiful, 80-degree Sunday evening for the first of three preseason training camp practices that are open and free to the public.

As Baltimore's Marching Ravens played outside the stadium and footballs flew in the parking lots, fans buzzed about the team's rookies, the injuries to key players — and what each might mean for the coming season.


They were divided on the potential addition of former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who has drawn criticism for refusing to stand during the national anthem as a protest of the treatment of black people in the United States.

Mostly, they were just excited to be back.


Rich Cofield, 50, traveled from San Diego for the practice. "It's football!" he explained.

Cofield grew up in Glen Burnie and attended Old Mill High School before moving to the West Coast. A Ravens fan since the team moved to Baltimore in 1996, he attended an exhibition game against the New Orleans Saints at Memorial Stadium. Sunday was his first time at M&T Bank Stadium, which opened later that year.

"I'm excited to go check it out," he said.

Sunday's open practice was one of only a few chances fans will have to see the team before exhibition play begins on Aug. 10.

The team normally invites fans to preseason practices at the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills, its 13-year-old headquarters. But the complex is under a $45 million renovation.

The work will ultimately allow for more fans to attend practices in future training camps, but the construction has prevented any from coming to this year's workouts.

The team instead scheduled two open practices at M&T Bank Stadium and one at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium in Annapolis.

Riley Mountz, 12, of Reading, Pa., got an autograph from offensive lineman Marshal Yanda outside the stadium before the game.


Mountz said the Ravens need to add strength on offense — at the tight end and offensive line positions in particular — but they're otherwise equipped to have a winning season.

"I think they'll go to the playoffs," he said.

Asked if the team should sign Kaepernick, though, Mountz shook his head.

"He kneels for the anthem," he said. "I don't want him on this team."

Gage Friend, 21, of Essex, sat in a camping chair under the shade of a tree near the players' entrance with a binder full of player cards and an old, practice-worn Terrell Suggs jersey he hoped the linebacker would sign.

Friend said he hasn't missed a game in two years. His autograph collection includes game-worn gloves, jerseys, cleats and baseball cards. He doesn't sell his signed memorabilia, he said; he frames it and puts it in his house, and shares it with his 9-year-old brother.


Friend estimated that about half of the players go straight past the fans without stopping to sign autographs, while half oblige the crowds hollering their names. Some players grant autographs on some occasions and skip them on others.

Popular kicker Justin Tucker stopped briefly to sign a few items. Suggs, wearing headphones and a black shirt emblazoned with "Sizzle," his nickname, waved but walked by without stopping.

"It's super unpredictable," Friend said. "That's what makes it fun."

Sydney Ricketts of Seaford, Del., emerged from a crowded line of Ravens fans, hyperventilating as she looked down at the signature — Eric Weddle's — on the left shoulder of her white Ravens jersey.

"He's the GOAT," the 19-year-old said, an acronym for "greatest of all time."

When Ricketts had taken a moment to stop and catch her breath, she gave her take on the rest of the team.


"It's mainly the offense I'm worried about," she said. "The defense, they're OK. … I think we'll be 11-5."

She thinks people's reactions to Kaepernick are overblown, but doesn't think the team's success hangs in the balance.

"In my opinion, we don't really need him," Ricketts said. "We're OK with or without him."

Tamel Martin, 35, of Cherry Hill, brought his whole family:

"I think they'll be a little better than last year," he said. "Hopefully we can make the playoffs."

Fred Jankowiak was optimistic that the Ravens would string together a better season than last year, when they went 8-8 and missed the playoffs for the second consecutive year.


"I'd love to see 12-4; 11-5 would be good; 10-6 would be OK," he said.

Jankowiak, 59, of Dundalk, said he didn't think Kaepernick would fit in well with the Ravens, traditionally a team that relies heavily on its running backs and defense.

"The Ravens aren't a running quarterback team," he said. "They need a running back. But with all of the money we just spent on wide receivers, why in the world would we need a running quarterback?"

Paul Hood wore purple-and-white striped overalls and carried a white chef's coat that he'd emblazoned with a dozen or so Ravens patches. He didn't seem bothered by the idea of bringing on the former 49er.

"I'm retired military," Hood said. "If he can help us to win, I'm for winning."

Thomas Wesley Jr., 29, of New Jersey, said he met former linebacker Ray Lewis at age 11 and "fell in love" with the Ravens. He travels two hours from his home in New Jersey to see a few games each year.


Wesley and his wife, Shavaughn, brought their 2-year-old daughter, Sanaa Raven Wesley, with them to see her namesake team prepare for the season. Practices give fans a different look at the team than an exhibition or regular-season game, he said.

"You see them fine-tune their craft for the game," he said. "You can meet one, get an autograph."

Wesley said Kaepernick is better than Ravens backup quarterback Ryan Mallett, and could help the team if quarter back Joe Flacco's injury turns out to be worse than expected: "I think they should go get him."

"Fans forget that in the Super Bowl we faced the same quarterback and he almost beat us," Wesley said. "It came down to one play on defense. I don't see why that guy couldn't be a backup to Flacco."

Earlene Brown, 78, of Sandtown-Winchester, watched from under the bill of a big foam Ravens hat as players walked past packed lines of fans jonesing for autographs.

"I love the Ravens, good or bad," she said.


Captain Dee-Fense, the popular "Ravens Superfan" who attends games in a homemade military-themed costume, posed for fans near the Johnny Unitas and Ray Lewis statues near the north entrance to the stadium.

He said the preseason injuries to Flacco, tight end Dennis Pitta and others are troubling.

"The injury god's not on our side," he said. "I'd rather it happen in August than September, but I've never seen it like this."

Ricardo Ledbetter, 56, a season ticket holder since 1996 who lives in Upper Marlboro, said he thinks the Ravens ought to take a hard look at their roster and make sure they can afford to turn down Kaepernick for off-the-field reasons.

"You never know, we might need the guy," he said. "A whole lot of people [in the NFL] have done a whole lot worse."

His take on the team's chances this season? "It doesn't look good."


"It's a bunch of rookies fighting for positions," Ledbetter said, watching the players stretch from Section 126. "It looks like at best 8-8, or worse — if we're lucky."

Bobby State, 28, of Wilmington, Del., was more optimistic.

"Hopefully Flacco will bounce back," he said. "We'll have 11 wins, and a deep run in the playoffs."