Short-handed Ravens open practice with new look

Joe Flacco threw a touchdown pass to wide receiver James Hardy instead of Derrick Mason. Ray Lewis lined up behind nose tackle Terrence Cody instead of Kelly Gregg. And Ray Rice ran behind fullback Jason McKie instead of Le'Ron McClain.

Is this just an abrupt start to a post-lockout training camp, or will this resemble the team that will face the Pittsburgh Steelers in 44 days?

"We're going to build the best team that $120 million can build," said coach John Harbaugh, referring to this year's salary cap. "Everybody is on a budget in life. And the people that aren't on a budget, they're bankrupt. We don't intend to file for bankruptcy around here. That's not what we do."

The Ravens still need to upgrade at offensive tackle, cornerback, wide receiver, backup quarterback, fullback and pass rusher.

But the Ravens can't go on a spending spree in free agency when there's no money to spend. It's estimated that the Ravens are around $4 million under the salary cap, and that's after releasing Mason, Gregg, tight end Todd Heap and running back Willis McGahee.

The best way to create more cap room is by signing defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, who counts $12.5 million against the cap, to a long-term deal. If they can't, the Ravens probably will go bargain hunting when the free-agent market settles.

"If there are some great players that want to play for the Ravens and think they have what it takes to play for this football team and will take a little less, come on and play for us," Harbaugh said.

The opening of Ravens training camp had a different feel to it, and it had nothing to do with holding it at Owings Mills instead of McDaniel College.

Hardy, a former second-round pick by the Buffalo Bills, was the starting wide receiver opposite Anquan Boldin. Defensive lineman Arthur Jones is already wearing Gregg's No. 97, and undrafted rookie running back Damien Berry has McGahee's No. 23.

And even though Ed Dickson is taking over for Heap at tight end, backup Dennis Pitta was reminded by the absence after he dropped a pass. "Heap would've caught it," linebacker Brandon Ayanbadejo said jokingly.

"I've seen some of the greats come and go," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. "That's the business side of it. We're not the only organization going through it."

There's still a possibility that the Ravens will re-sign Heap, Mason or Gregg at reduced contracts.

"With those guys, it's not like we're totally done with them," said Lewis, who spoke with Heap Thursday. "I'm almost certain that we'll try to work out something to try to bring those guys back in whatever capacity we can."

Even if the release of the four veterans were not a factor, the Ravens still would be practicing short-handed.

The Ravens might be without 14 players until Aug. 4 because of NFL rules stemming from the lockout.

The contracts for eight restricted free agents (linebacker Jameel McClain, safety Tom Zbikowski, offensive tackle Oniel Cousins, linebacker Tavares Gooden, safety Haruki Nakamura, running back Jalen Parmele, wide receiver Marcus Smith and defensive tackle Kelly Talavou), four exclusive-rights free agents (including linebacker Dannell Ellerbe) and two signed free agents after July 25(offensive tackle Marshal Yanda and linebacker Prescott Burgess) don't become effective until the new league year, which is a week away. The new league year is established when players recertify as a union and ratify the new 10-year collective bargaining agreement.

"We're short a bunch of guys because of these crazy rules that say your unrestricted free agents can't practice," Harbaugh said.

The Ravens likely will have a different look over the upcoming weeks whether it's adding a wide receiver such as San Diego's Malcom Floyd, re-signing cornerback Chris Carr or picking up a fullback such as Cleveland's Lawrence Vickers.

"We'll be playing on Sept. 11," Harbaugh said. "And I think they're going to have fun watching this team play."

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