Normally, the first full-contact workout of an NFL training camp is a fairly perfunctory thing. The players take their first hard knocks and start to get into the rhythm of the daily battle for their places on the regular season roster.
That was the case on Saturday for just about everyone in uniform at the Ravens facility except second-year linebacker Sergio Kindle, whose return from a serious head injury has everyone in camp — the coaching staff, the media, his teammates — watching and waiting to see if he is healthy enough to be the dynamic defensive player the Ravens drafted in the second round out of the University of Texas last year.
So far, so good.
Kindle made it through the three-hour practice in full pads without incident, which is very good news for all concerned. He was a premier pass rusher in college and would be a major asset to a Ravens team that had a franchise-low 27 sacks in 2010. There's a long way to go before he gets the chance to strike fear into Ben Roethlisberger in the regular season opener at M&T Bank Stadium, but Saturday was a good day.
"I didn't see any problem at all … I think he's OK," head coach John Harbaugh said. "Obviously, he'll get in the training room and they'll check him out a little bit, but he made it through the whole practice, never wavered, never seemed to have an issue. He was banging."
He looked big and fast and aggressive, which was the book on him before the draft. The only question was whether the Ravens were being too fast and aggressive inserting him into a full schedule of activity rather than bringing him along a more gradually during the first week or two of drills.
"There was no discussion of that," Harbaugh said. "We had the two days. I think the two days of acclimation probably were a pretty good slow play for him as well as everyone else. We've just got to find out. See how he does with it and we should know. I think he's going to be fine, but we'll have to see."
Kindle made it clear during his media session on Friday that he wants no quarter. He knows that there might be some added risk involved in his return to full football activities. He has spent the past year under a medical microscope and has finally been cleared by the doctors to play, so he's ready to find out, too.
"They (the doctors) gave me precautions on what could happen if I was to make contact in a certain way," he said, "but I know all about it now. So, if it happens, maybe it was supposed to. But I'm not looking for it to happen. I'm not worried about if that happens or not. I'm just going to go out there and play like I'm supposed to."
It's hard to imagine that the freak injury — the skull fracture that resulted from a late-night fall down two flights of stairs — could be far out of mind, especially since Kindle has lost most of the hearing in his left ear, but he's determined to make it a non-issue.
"You know, my mindset is to go out there and play like nothing ever happened," he said. "And that's how you've got to do it, because going out there and being hesitant or nervous can lead to you not playing well, or it can lead to an injury."
But it's kind of hard for anyone else to ignore, considering the gravity of the injury and Kindle's potential value to the team.
"It's kind of weird because I've never been around a guy who's had an injury like that so it's a little bit of a different situation," said teammate Jarret Johnson. "It's very rare, I'm sure, for the training room. He looked good. He was out there hitting people. I was just happy to see him back on the field, because there were some rumors last year that he would never play. Then you go see him running around and he looks great."
The first few workouts have gone very well. Kindle has a lot to learn and admits that he feels like a rookie — which he essentially is — but the Ravens are hopeful he can make an immediate contribution to the pass rush.
"It would be a big plus," Harbaugh said. "If he can rush the passer like he did in Texas, that's the idea. I think you look to Suggs' first year, not that I want to put pressure on him, but if we can focus on the pass rush part primarily and then see what else he can do, kind of like we did with Terrell when he was here the first year and focus on that part of it as far as bringing him along, that would be kind of our plan right now."
Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal.com.