Tony Pashos just might be the best advertisement NFL Europe has yet to tap.
Pashos, who spent a season with the Cologne Centurions two years ago, is grateful Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome sent the then-rookie offensive lineman to the NFL's version of the minor leagues after the 2003 season.
"His decision was [to have Pashos] go over there and practice against live bullets," Pashos recalled. "It worked out great. ... You work on the speed of the game and what stances and what movements work and what doesn't. It was perfect for me. It was a great spring ball transition to get into the NFL."
The move seemed to pay off last year when Pashos worked himself into a regular rotation with Orlando Brown at right tackle. When a back injury stemming from a car accident ended Brown's season with seven games left, Pashos became the full-time starter at that position.
Succeeding a guy nicknamed Zeus - for Brown's 6-foot-7, 360-pound body - could have been daunting, but offensive line coach Chris Foerster said Pashos handled the duties well.
"Tony had to step into a full-time role and did a very good job," Foerster said. "He's very conscientious, works very, very hard. His attention to detail is good, and he takes pride in trying to do things well every single day in practice.
"This year, he's stepped up and picked up where he left off. Hopefully, he'll make that progression as a second-year starter and take another step forward," Foerster said, adding that he sees Pashos enjoying a solid career as a starting right tackle.
Reaching this stage in his career wasn't easy for Pashos, a fifth-round selection by the Ravens in the 2003 draft who missed his entire rookie season with a hand injury.
During the ensuing offseason, Newsome informed Pashos of the team's intention to send him to Europe. Pashos said he was taken aback by the relocation.
"It was such a huge leap," he said. "If you had told me to go to California for four months or Texas or Florida and practice football, that would be great. But you get over it. You've got to follow your dreams, and this is my dream - to be out here and put a jersey on and run through that tunnel. If I had to go to Europe to get to it, I was going to do it."
George Kokinis, the team's director of pro personnel, said he and other officials weren't worried Pashos would give up on his goal.
"He was smart enough to understand what an opportunity it was," Kokinis said. "It's just like anything else. Are you going to respond to the situation and get out what you put in? I had a lot of faith that he would go over and focus for 20 weeks and improve."
That faith was cemented in 2004 when Pashos secured a roster spot, played in six games and saw action on special teams.
Pashos is only the second Raven on the current roster to make the transition from NFL Europe to NFL starter. (Defensive tackle Kelly Gregg played for the Rhein Fire in 2001.)
Linemate Edwin Mulitalo noted the difficulty of a player from NFL Europe finding success here.
"Guys in front of you might be established, so you go to NFL Europe. Then you come back and those guys that were good as juniors are coming out [of school]," Mulitalo said. "This is huge for him. I'm sure those guys in NFL Europe use him as an example, as motivation to say, 'Guys, you can move on.'"
This past offseason, Pashos spent a good portion of his time in his hometown of Lockport, Ill., practicing Iyengar yoga, which emphasizes improving flexibility and eliminating aches and pains. Pashos said he enjoyed the intensive workouts so much that he persuaded linemates Jason Brown and Brian Rimpf to join him at a yoga class in Bethesda before the start of training camp.
As much as Pashos is enjoying his personal success, he still occasionally thinks of those toiling away in Europe.
"What people don't realize is that there is a mountain of guys still there," Pashos said. "There are a lot of guys that should be playing but just don't have the opportunity."
Note -- Today's morning practice at McDaniel College in Westminster is closed to the public. The afternoon session focusing on special teams work is scheduled for 3 p.m. to 4 p.m.