The dream of taking the field at an NFL stadium will become reality for 34 Ravens rookies when the team practices at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday.
The team's first practice open to the public this preseason figures to be a spine-tingling, butterfly-inducing moment for players like defensive end Pernell McPhee, who expressed awe at stepping onto the same field where predecessors like Michael McCrary and Peter Boulware became feared pass rushers.
"It's going to be real exciting and a really emotional day, because that's where the best defensive players who have ever played the game have played," said McPhee, the club's fifth-round selection in last April's draft. "I'm just going to go out there and try to perform to the best of my abilities."
Then, there are rookies like right tackle Jah Reid, who was unaware of Saturday's venue change from the team's practice facility in Owings Mills.
"We're going there this Saturday? I didn't even know that," the third-round pick said. "It's going to be pretty exciting. I can't wait. It'll be my first time there. It'll be awesome and a great experience."
Saturday's practice at M&T Bank Stadium is widely anticipated due to complications caused by the 132-day lockout. Because of uncertainty as to when the lockout would end, the Ravens decided in late June that they could not bring training camp to McDaniel College in Westminster as they had done so for the previous 15 summers. The team's facility in Owings Mills was not built to accommodate fans, so all practices to this point have been closed to the public.
That means Saturday's workout will be the first and only one open to fans. An announced crowd of 17,851 watched last year's practice at M&T Bank Stadium, and a projected forecast of clouds and temperatures hovering in the low to mid 80s could encourage more fans to attend.
Holding camp in Owings Mills has its benefits for the players and coaches, but rookie linebacker Anthony Leon conceded that practicing before a crowd tends to elevate the adrenaline levels.
"I'm always trying to put on a show and show them what I've got and show them that I'm a ballplayer," he said. "I'm just going to be excited."
Reid agreed with Leon, but also said that his priority is more self-centered.
"I just need to learn these plays and schemes as fast as I can," he said. "I just want to do them the right way. That's what I'm going to concentrate on."
Players on the team's physically-unable-to-perform list — wide wide receiver David Reed (wrist), offensive tackle Ramon Harewood (knees), defensive tackle Brandon McKinney (knee) and long snapper Morgan Cox (knee) — won't participate unless they are removed from the list.
But barring any major catastrophes on Friday, fan favorites like 12-time Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis, seven-time Pro Bowl free safety Ed Reed, four-time Pro Bowl linebacker Terrell Suggs, quarterback Joe Flacco and running back Ray Rice should be available to participate in Saturday's workout.
Those players are well-accustomed to performing at M&T Bank Stadium and in front of fans. But the rookies will need to adjust to a different stage, and coach John Harbaugh said he expects nerves to be a factor.
"I think it'll be a little jittery for them," Harbaugh said. "To be in that stadium for the first time, to walk into the locker room, to walk down the tunnel and walk onto the field with fans in the stands, it's going to be a moment in their life. I think it will be something they'll remember for the rest of their life, even if it's just a practice. It's going to be special."
Baltimore Sun reporter Jamison Hensley contributed to this article