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Ravens rookies hit practice field for first time

OWINGS MILLS - Less than three months from now, the battles will truly begin for the Baltimore Ravens' rookie class.

Rookies report to training camp July 21. The first full-team practice is four days later.

Some rookies, like safety Matt Elam, Arthur Brown and Brandon Williams, will be competing for starting jobs. Others, like outside linebacker John Simon and fullback Kyle Juszczyk, will be looking to do enough to carve out substantial roles. And others, like seventh-round wide receiver Aaron Mellette, are likely to be vying for the final spots on the Ravens' 53-man roster.

On Friday, though, Baltimore's rookies were simply trying to get through their first NFL practice.

The Ravens' mandatory rookie minicamp began Friday and will run through Sunday.

Practice wasn't open to the media, but Brown said the session was "productive" and was a positive first step for Baltimore's rookie class.

"Honestly, it's just great to be here," Brown said. "It's been a tremendous process, one which I enjoyed, but the main goal is playing football and just being here today definitely feels good."

Added Simon: "Learning the playbook is half the battle and the mental part of it, and then getting the speed down when we start playing with the veterans is going to be another thing. It's just getting yourself feeling comfortable out there on the field at a new level of play, and this mini camp is like a jump start to that."

Most of the Ravens' rookie class arrived in Baltimore Thursday and the entire class was at the Ravens' training facility later in the day to be fitted for equipment, among other things.

"We're all just getting to know each other," Simon said. "We're going to be teammates, so it's getting to know each other and just to get the playbook down extremely well. We're learning a whole new system, new terminology, so getting that stuff down is going to take a couple weeks and we're trying to get a jump start on that right now."

The rookies will get their first chance to practice with the veterans in a little more than two weeks, when Baltimore opens the first of its three three-day Organized Team Activities (OTAs).

Following the conclusion of the OTAs, the Ravens will hold their mandatory minicamp June 11-13 and then open training camp in late July.

UDFA ADDITIONS: The Ravens officially announced deals with 14 undrafted free agents Friday, including offensive lineman Jeff Braun (West Virginia), a Westminster native and Winters Mill graduate, and outside linebacker Brandon Copeland (Penn), who grew up in Sykesville and went to high school at Gilman in Baltimore.

Other particularly intriguing undrafted free agents include left tackle Rogers Gaines (Tennessee State) and tight ends Matt Furstenburg (Maryland) and Murphy Holloway (Ole Miss).

Gaines is big (6-foot-6, 334 pounds), athletic and described as a player with considerable upside. He's considered to be raw and very much a project, but he didn't allow a sack in eight games as a senior at Tennessee State last season and is also described as having been an effective run blocker in college thanks largely to his size, athleticism and physicality.

Furstenburg and Holloway, meanwhile, will compete for a reserve spot at tight end behind Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson.

Furstenburg had just 16 catches as a senior at Maryland last season, but he's considered to be a strong blocker and, especially after testing out well at the NFL scouting combine in February, was a player many thought would be selected at some point during the latter part of the NFL draft last weekend.

The 6-foot-3, 244-pound Furstenburg ran the second-fastest 40-yard dash among tight ends at the combine (4.62 seconds) and was also among the top performers at tight end in the vertical jump (35.5 inches), the 20-yard shuttle (4.35 seconds) and the 60-yard shuttle (11.76 seconds).

Holloway, meanwhile, hasn't played football since his sophomore year of high school, but he was a standout basketball player at Ole Miss and will look to become the latest former college basketball to successfully make the transition to tight end in the NFL.

Worth pointing out about Holloway, aside from his size (6-foot-6, 240 pounds), is that he was actually a very good college basketball player.

He was a four-year starter at Ole Miss, finished his career as the school's all-time leading rebounder and was a first-team All-SEC selection as a senior last season. He averaged 14.5 points and an SEC-best 9.7 rebounds as a senior last year.

ROOKIE DEALS: Baltimore also announced Friday that it has signed six of its 10 draft picks.

Elam, Brown, Williams and Simon are the only draft picks that remain unsigned.

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