In the span of only a few hours Thursday, Ben Cleveland suited up for his first practice as a Raven, had a former WWE champion ask whether they might be related, and explained how he used to crush roughly 4,000 cheesy calories before bed in high school.
Oh, and there was the squirrel stuff, too. Can’t forget about that.
“One of those things where you eat what you got in the freezer,” the Ravens rookie guard said after the first day of rookie minicamp, explaining his rodent diet in his matter-of-fact Southern drawl. “So I had a few squirrels freeze-dried in there. Get a little hungry, ain’t got no deer meat left, fry up a squirrel or two and just go eat that.”
Whatever helps feed a 6-foot-6, 340-plus-pound powerhouse with a “Big Country” nickname. Cleveland, a third-round pick and avid outdoorsman, told reporters this spring that the animal’s lean protein helped him cut weight before his Georgia pro day, where he ran a 4.97-second 40-yard dash and completed 35 bench-press repetitions of 225 pounds.
Cleveland’s legend seems to grow every time he speaks. Even anecdotes about normal food conquests are supersized. He explained Thursday that he didn’t take his nutrition seriously until his sophomore year of college. On Tuesday nights in high school, he’d reward himself after practice with a trip to the local Little Caesars in Toccoa, Georgia. He’d buy two or three pizzas to take home and eat two before bed. A large Classic cheese pizza has about 1,950 calories.
“Obviously, the dietitian part was not there in high school,” he joked.
With his bushy beard and strongman physique, Cleveland’s hard not to notice. After seeing a clip of Cleveland stride onto the Ravens’ practice field, Braun Strowman, a former WWE champion and tower of power himself (a listed 6-8, 385 pounds), asked him on Twitter: “You fam????”
“Obviously, we look alike and I’m sure we have a lot of things in common,” Cleveland, a fan of Strowman’s, said at Thursday’s virtual news conference. He later wrote back: “We got separated somewhere around birth I’m pretty sure.”
With starting left guard Bradley Bozeman a top candidate for the Ravens’ vacant center position, Cleveland’s hungry for a starting job this season, too. But he’s not getting ahead of himself. There’s enough on his plate already.
“We’re all seeing this playbook for the first and second time, so right now, really and truly just focused on kind of getting in sync with these new guys and learning this playbook,” he said. “Because you can’t go play fast until you know what you’re doing. I think that’s definitely step one, is just making sure you get that playbook down pat. But that’s really what I’m worried about right now. Not really thinking ahead to fall camp and that starting job.”
>> As wide receiver Tylan Wallace explained it, pace was a priority at Oklahoma State, where coaches kept the tempo high with one-word play calls. In the NFL, the time between plays is a little longer. So are the names of the plays themselves.
“The biggest thing for me is, I’ve got to know where I’m going and what I’m doing first,” said Wallace, a fourth-round pick who signed his rookie contract Thursday. “So that’s the biggest challenge for me right now. So as long as I can get that down, everything else will take care of itself.”
>> Outside linebacker Daelin Hayes, who grew up a Ravens fan, said he got goose bumps when he walked into the building this week for the first time.
“I mean, you talk about a long line of great players that came before you,” he said. “So the standard was the standard, and you feel that when you walk in this building. It’s just a feeling of excellence, and it just fired me up. And I was excited to get to work and anxious to get on the field today.”
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>> The Ravens finalized their three-game preseason schedule Thursday. They’ll open at M&T Bank Stadium on Aug. 14 against the New Orleans Saints, with kickoff scheduled for 7 p.m. Their first road game is set for 7 p.m. on Aug. 21 against the Carolina Panthers. Their finale, against the Washington Football Team at FedEx Field, will begin at 4 p.m. on Aug. 28.