Raven coach Harbaugh talks about of how exciting the atmosphere was at the open practice at M&T Bank Stadium. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Almost 12 months removed from suffering a torn right Achilles tendon, Ravens tight end Benjamin Watson returned to the scene of that frightening memory when the team practiced inside M&T Bank Stadium Sunday evening.
For the 14-year veteran, it was an admittedly anxious return.
"It was good to be here today," he said. "The last time I was on that field wasn't so good. Driving in today, I kind of had a nervous feeling because of what happened last time. So to come out and participate in the whole practice and run around, it's a great feeling, but there's still a little ways to go."
Watson, a coveted free agent after the 2015 season, ruptured the tendon on the first play from scrimmage in a preseason game against the Detroit Lions on Aug. 27. Placed on injured reserve two days later, he missed an entire season for the first time in his career.
Watson has participated in every practice of training camp, but said he is still working his way back into football shape.
Asked what he is trying to overcome, Watson replied, "The tentativeness, I would say. There's still some burst and some strength and some stability and some playing football like getting leverage and having somebody try to throw you and throwing somebody and coming off the ball and hitting somebody. It's all of those football things that have to continue to happen over the course of the next few weeks for your brain and body to start moving again how it used to.
"There's a process. The body takes time to heal, and there's still some healing and some strengthening going on, but there's also just being a football player. That's part of the process, and that's kind of the hard thing. You watch yourself on film and you're like, 'Who is that guy? Oh, I see him a little bit.' Hopefully, you start seeing that guy more and more over time."
With the loss of Dennis Pitta (released after third right hip fracture in four years), Darren Waller (year-long suspension for violating the NFL's substance abuse policy), and Crockett Gillmore (torn cartilage in right knee), Watson is expected to lead a tight end group that includes Nick Boyle, Ryan Malleck, Vince Mayle, Maxx Williams and newly signed Larry Donnell. Watson said he feels strong enough to assume that responsibility.
"It's a process. It's a really long, arduous process, and it's tough," he said. "… But every day, I'm feeling a little bit stronger. It's been almost 10 months now, approaching 11, and there's still a little ways to go. But the training staff did a good job with rehabbing me. I'm optimistic."