Lights, camera ... now, action

THE BALTIMORE SUN

The Ravens descended upon Western Maryland College yesterday, saying hello to the cameras and goodbye to their privacy.

When Ray Lewis jokingly bumped into Rod Woodson in the hotel lobby, a boom microphone hovered over them. When first-round pick Todd Heap took his first step off the plane, a camera crew caught it on tape.

And when coach Brian Billick entered the coaches' meeting room, he noticed a remote-control-operated camera nestled in a corner.

"Big Brother is watching," Billick said.

The atmosphere resembled a sound stage rather than the Super Bowl champions reporting to training camp, as Home Box Office's filming of its six-part series - Hard Knocks: Training Camp with the Baltimore Ravens - was in full swing.

A 20-person crew from NFL Films will tape more than 700 hours, with unprecedented access ranging from practices to meetings to team flights to dorm rooms to players' personal lives. The first episode airs at 11 p.m. Wednesday.

"I can't imagine much that would be thrown at us in terms of a distraction during the season that we would not have already experienced," Billick said. "Very truthfully, training camp is about providing learning experiences, and that's what this is for my players."

Heap had little space in trying to get acclimated to his first day at training camp.

When he signed his contract, he was not alone. When he said goodbye to his wife of two weeks, Ashley, he still wasn't alone.

"I don't know if I'll ever be used to the cameras," Heap said. "I'm just going to do the same things I always do out there. It'll probably be a little bit of an adjustment. You have to watch what you say at all times. I think it will be exciting."

Heap, who agreed in principle to a contract late Friday night, expressed relief about reporting on time despite some warnings from teammates.

"Some people have told me to beware of Ray Lewis' big hit for all the rookies," he said. "But that's football, though. I'm just looking forward to practicing and throwing the pads on finally."

Off camera, the players were settling into life at camp and away from home.

Defensive tackle Tony Siragusa had to leave his wife, Kathy, who is expecting their third child in September. Last week, they were at the hospital because she was having early contractions.

"She's hanging in there," Siragusa said.

Siragusa then lightened the mood by talking about how much he loathes camp and how he tried to finagle his way out of Westminster again.

A holdout for all of last year's camp, Siragusa told Billick he was superstitious and didn't want to hurt the team's chances of repeating by reporting. Billick didn't buy it.

"I figure if something works, go with it again," Siragusa said. "I was ready to get bashed again by the fans and hear how fat I am, and then just win another Super Bowl. Brian asked me to come in, and there's a lot of things going on. I really don't miss this thing."

Though many players would agree with Siragusa, right offensive tackle Leon Searcy is not one of them. A free agent out of Jacksonville, Searcy wants to test his rehabilitated right knee.

He suffered torn quadriceps above that knee in the first practice in pads of last year's camp with the Jaguars. He hasn't fully suited up since that day.

"The bell has to toll now," Searcy said. "When I get to pushing on people on a daily basis, that's when I'll know. So I'll get my true test when we put on the pads."

And it's a good bet HBO will be watching.

"This is just the beginning," Billick said. "If we can indeed play up to our potential and get on another march to the playoffs and inevitably a Super Bowl, this kind of presence is just going to get worse and worse and worse. I don't want to find out in October and November that it's overwhelming for my guys. This is the place to find out."

NOTES: The only player not to report on time was Jason Brookins, who missed his flight from St. Louis. An NFL Europe veteran, Brookins will be competing for the backup running back spot with fifth-round draft pick Chris Barnes. ... The Ravens will start camp in perfect health, and trainer Bill Tessendorf said no player will be limited for today's morning practice. ... Ravens officials said they will not pursue running back Errict Rhett, who was released Saturday by the Cleveland Browns. However, the former Raven would be on their list if an injury necessitated the need for another running back.

Ravens camp

Where: Western Maryland College, Westminster

Today: Morning practice, 8:45-11 a.m.; afternoon practice, 4-5:30 p.m.

Tomorrow: Morning practice, 8:45-11:10 a.m.; afternoon practice, 3-4 p.m.

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