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Ravens Notebook: Birk back from varicose vein surgery

Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk talks to reporters gathered for the first practice of summer training camp at the Ravens' Owings Mills training facility Tuesday.
Baltimore Ravens center Matt Birk talks to reporters gathered for the first practice of summer training camp at the Ravens' Owings Mills training facility Tuesday.(DYLAN SLAGLE/STAFF PHOTO , Carroll County Times)

OWINGS MILLS - Joe Namath once created a memorable stir when the New York Jets quarterback legend donned pantyhose for a popular commercial.

It's unlikely that Baltimore Ravens six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk will rival Broadway Joe in the advertising game, but the veteran blocker did upgrade his legs this offseason.

Birk had surgery in June to deal with varicose veins in his legs, something that had plagued the 36-year-old for several seasons.

"Well, you guys can tell that my legs are tiptop now," Birk said with a smile Tuesday. "Fueling multiple offers to model them both."

Jokes aside, Birk is already feeling the rejuvenating effects of the procedure.

He would get tired due to the rigors of an NFL season last year.

"I feel better," Birk said. "They say it will help me feel better during the season. My leg won't get as fatigued or swollen. It's a good thing."

Birk practiced without limitations Tuesday as rookies, quarterbacks and injured veterans from season opened training camp.

Birk has had issues in the past with knee, neck, elbow and ankle injuries and had arthroscopic surgery a year ago on his left knee.

Birk denied that his legs were a factor in struggling against New England Patriots heavyweight defensive lineman Vince Wilfork during the Ravens' AFC championship game loss at Gillette Stadium.

Wilfork was extremely disruptive that day, registering six tackles, including three for losses, as he busted through the line past Birk and Pro Bowl guards Marshal Yanda and Ben Grubbs.

"None," Birk said when asked if his legs were an issue. "It was none. That's all I can say."

After missing nearly the entire preseason last year, Birk arrived at team headquarters in much better health.

Signed to a three-year, $8.525 million contract in March, the Harvard graduate seemed energized as he enters his 15th NFL season even though camp is something he's done so many times.

"I think you understand that it does have a purpose, and as much as you might try and deceive yourself as a player and think that you don't need it, you do. It's important from a team standpoint to be out here and going through the two-a-days and doing the hard stuff, putting your body through it to get it ready, kind of get it calloused, get it ready to endure the physical rigors of the season. To be honest with yourself, you embrace it. It's part of the process and also to your biological clock, it ticks this time of year, late July, August. As a football player, you're supposed to be sweating on the football field."

UPSHAW PASSES CONDITIONING TEST ON SECOND TRY: Rookie outside linebacker Courtney Upshaw has passed a mandatory conditioning test and is now cleared to practice.

Upshaw initially flunked the timed series of runs on his first try and was placed on the non-football injury list.

Now, Upshaw has been activated along with undrafted rookie tight end Bruce Figgins. Figgins also failed the test.

Upshaw indicated via his Twitter account that he missed one walk-through practice before passing the test on his second try.

The conditioning test involves six 150-yard sprints run in 25-yard intervals akin to a suicide drill in basketball.

Players have to make certain times for their position and have 70 seconds of rest time in between runs.

"Obviously, the bigger guys have more rest and a slower time," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "The idea is to get a basic ability to recover between sets, a basic ability to get your wind back, to get your legs back and then to change direction, put stress on the muscles, stop, start, change direction, which is what happens in football. You make sure the guys can do that, recover the next day so they can get through a basic practice. To me, it's a fundament, a baseline level of conditioning. And that's why we do it."

Upshaw is the Ravens' top draft pick, a second-round selection from Alabama who recorded 9 1/2 sacks last season for the Crimson Tide.

He's projected to start at former Ravens starter Jarret Johnson's vacated strongside linebacker spot.

Johnson signed a $19 million contract with the San Diego Chargers this offseason.FINGERS CROSSED: The Ravens are hopeful that starting left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie will report at his target weight of 345 pounds.

McKinnie wasn't allowed to practice at a mandatory minicamp in June due to conditioning issues. The former Pro Bowl blocker was cut by the Minnesota Vikings last summer when he ballooned up to 387 pounds during the NFL lockout.

He struggled with his endurance during an organized team activity and seemed to have trouble keeping up with the tempo of practice.

However, McKinnie recently told the Times that he was down to 350 pounds and had significantly improved his diet and conditioning.

"I haven't seen him yet," Harbaugh said. "We'll see. I have my fingers crossed. One thing about Bryant and I will say this: Bryant is a hard worker. He's a hard worker. He's going to do everything he can from a work standpoint to get it done. And hopefully he will be able to do what he needs to do."Reach staff writer Aaron Wilson at 410-857-7896 or sports@carrollcountytimes.com.

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