Very happy campers

The Baltimore Sun

One by one, the Ravens reported to training camp yesterday, hauling their luggage into the team hotel.

But that was the only baggage the team was carrying into camp this year.

For the first time since the Ravens were reigning Super Bowl champions, they face no major distractions upon their arrival at McDaniel College.

"The last time I felt this good going into a season was 2001," said coach Brian Billick, who begins his ninth camp with the Ravens. "You say that with your fingers crossed."

There are no questions about their first-round pick's holding out. Guard Ben Grubbs signed Friday, ending a five-year run of first-round picks reporting late.

There's no controversy at quarterback. Steve McNair enters his second season as the starter, providing veteran stability to a usual trouble spot.

And there's no concern about their coach's job security. Billick was rewarded in the offseason, signing a four-year contract.

This has the makings of a drama-free training camp.

"It's going to be a smooth transition," tight end Todd Heap said. "We don't have much to worry about. I'm ready to go. I think we're all itching to go."

Last year at McDaniel College, the Ravens were in a different place mentally.

They were coming off a disappointing 6-10 season. They had some worries about McNair because he had spent just one minicamp with the team. And they didn't even know who was going to start at strong safety.

Now, the Ravens bring back 18 of 22 starters from a team that went a franchise-best 13-3.

"It's hard not to feel very good about this team right now and what the potential - and I underline 'potential' - that this team has," Billick said.

The only issues facing Billick are sorting out the offensive line, incorporating new running back Willis McGahee into the offense and replacing All-Pro linebacker Adalius Thomas.

McGahee's teammates told him to expect a "laid-back" atmosphere at Billick's training camp.

"But I've got to see it for myself," McGahee said. "I've been at camps where they just hit every day. I'm used to it, but this will be a good change for me."

The absence of drama was reflected by the media turnout. Only a handful of reporters greeted the players in the lobby because most of the media attention was on the Baseball Hall of Fame induction of Cal Ripken Jr. in Cooperstown, N.Y.

This pales in comparison to the craziness going on with the Atlanta Falcons (Michael Vick's legal troubles), the Kansas City Chiefs (Larry Johnson's holdout) and the New York Giants (Michael Strahan's absence).

"The way we ended up last year, the team is going to be focused," center Mike Flynn said. "We know where we want to go to. I think we're feeling pretty confident."

Still, the Ravens know how quickly a training camp can turn from smooth to chaotic.

After an uneventful start to the 2001 training camp, the Ravens had to deal with season-ending injuries to running back Jamal Lewis and offensive tackle Leon Searcy just 10 days into camp.

But the Ravens are focused on minimizing the distractions that they can control.

"If you're not helping, you're hurting," Billick said. "So anything - however minor it is - that upsets your rhythm is a distraction. Right now, we're sitting in a pretty good position."

Notes -- The Ravens will officially place players on the physically-unable-to-perform list today. Offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden (toe) and linebacker Mike Smith (shoulder) will be put on the list for an indefinite period. Linebacker Dan Cody, who reported with his injured right knee wrapped, could be placed on the list. Fullback Justin Green (knee) said his status is "day-to-day." ... The Ravens signed three players: wide receiver Leo Bookman (released by the Raiders in April), defensive tackle Anthony Bryant (released by the Falcons in May) and linebacker Jamar Enzor (released by the Jets last year). ... Reserve defensive tackle Atiyyah Ellison was the first player to report, arriving at McDaniel College at 9:30 a.m. The team meeting began at 4 p.m.

Sun reporter Edward Lee contributed to this article.

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