Jeff Zrebiec and Mike Preston give an update from London. (Baltimore Sun video)
The Ravens have said all week that they're treating their matchup Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars as a business trip. Yet, when they exited their team charter early Friday morning at Heathrow Airport after an overnight flight from Baltimore, they were reminded that this is anything but a typical road game.
Purple-wearing fans lined up on each side of the terminal as a group of sleepy Ravens passed through on their way to buses at approximately 8 a.m. London time Friday.
"We saw hundreds of fans greeting us and giving us high fives," Ravens safety Eric Weddlesaid after the team's practice Friday. "It's pretty special when you can share this experience, not only with your teammates and the organization but fans that support you. It's pretty cool that they make the trek from the East Coast."
Sunday marks the Ravens' first game overseas and their fans have made their presence known here in airports, bars, restaurants and hotels. The team is staying a good distance outside the city, so players and coaches are insulated from much of the pomp and circumstance.
Ravens can climb to 3-0 with a win over the Jaguars in London on Sunday.
By Mike Preston
Sep 22, 2017 | 2:10 PM
However, they got a taste of the attention their presence is getting when approximately 50 photographers and media members, five times more than the group of local reporters that typically attends a Ravens' Friday practice at their Owings Mills training facility, surrounded the end zone as players took the field for their workout Friday afternoon at the London Irish training ground at Hazelwood Centre. Running back Buck Allen and safety Anthony Levine Sr. walked toward the throng of cameras and struck a pose.
The London Irish training ground typically serves as the training facility for the London Irish Rugby Club. On Friday, several of the rugby players watched the Ravens (2-0) continue preparations for the Jaguars (1-1), the fourth consecutive season the two teams will meet. The Ravens will have a walk-through practice Saturday afternoon at Wembley Stadium ahead of Sunday's game, which starts at 2:30 p.m. local time.
"This facility is fantastic. This is as good as any NFL facility. The fields are great," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "We appreciate them giving us the opportunity to practice at this great place. The fans have been great. Our hotel has been great. We came into the airport and there were Ravens fans everywhere. We had Ravens' fans from the States. We had Ravens' fans from Great Britain, I think. I heard a couple of accents. It was fun. It's just been great being here. We're appreciative of it. We're really excited to play the game."
After practice, the Ravens' kicking battery of Justin Tucker, Sam Koch and Morgan Cox held a kicking clinic. On an adjacent field, several Ravens participated in a flag football event with local schoolchildren as part of the NFL Play-60 campaign. Former Raven greats Jonathan Ogden and Ray Lewis, who have been appearing at a number of team and league-sponsored events in the city this week along with Ed Reed and Steve Smith Sr., also were among those helping out.
Otherwise, Harbaugh and the team leaders have been adamant about keeping the focus on the field.
"Really more than anything, playing the game is our responsibility. That's kind of our job as a team – to come out here and play a great football game. The Jaguars feel the same way," Harbaugh said. "We have a lot at stake. This is a regular-season game. This game means a lot to us. We need to win this game to keep pace in the AFC. We need to win this game to keep pace in the division. We're in the middle of our season. We're right in the thick of it. There's nothing else really for us besides playing the game really well. We're not worried about any other part of it. The NFL takes care of all that."
Once the practice and then some media obligations were concluded – England-born offensive lineman Jermaine Eluemunor drew the biggest crowd - the Ravens players hustled on the buses to return to the team hotel. Back at the hotel, members of the team's training and strength and conditioning staff set up pool workouts and some hot and cold tub treatments to help players recover from the long trip and the five-hour time difference.
After a scheduled team dinner, players were encouraged to get to sleep early. A team doctor met with players earlier in the week and hammered home the point of going to bed a little earlier to better transition to the time difference.
"We have to put our best foot forward and give us our best shot to win these games," Weddle said. "We did that today. We got better today. We're prepared [and] we're excited for this game. Now, it's about recovery and getting your body back as best as you can and the little mental things that you shore up over the next two days."
The Ravens were on the practice field six hours after they landed following a seven-hour flight. Some heavy legs and lethargy was expected, but Harbaugh complimented his team for how well it practiced. Weddle and quarterbackJoe Flacco,two of the team leaders, even sounded a bit surprised with how sharp the practice went. Fridays are traditionally the last full practice before Sunday's game because Saturday's sessions are walk-throughs.
Both Flacco and Weddle acknowledged that they were tired when they reported to an 11 a.m. meeting Friday at the team hotel. However, by the time they took the field for practice, the fatigue was mostly gone, replaced by anticipation for the game.
"I honestly thought we'd be zombies walking around out here," Flacco said. "I feel like personally, since I've been on my feet, I've been pretty good. In meetings earlier today, I was a little bit tired. But ever since I've been up and moving around, I felt pretty good. I thought practice was pretty typical for a Friday.
"I'm definitely very eager to see what it's going to be like. Obviously, there's no city over here that's playing. It's kind of just football fans or people that want to become fans. It will be cool to see a little bit of Ravens' fans, a little bit of Jaguars' fans and then hopefully football fans in general. Hopefully, we put on a good game for them and get people interested."