OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — The Baltimore Ravens launched training camp Thursday with a three-hour practice, and when it was over, Ray Lewis appeared to be as fresh as when it began.
While the NFL locked its doors for nearly five months, Lewis used the time to get ready for his 16th NFL season. The results of his extensive offseason regimen quickly became evident during the team’s first foray onto the field since January, a grueling session in which the players didn’t wear pads but rarely stopped running.
“He’s been in great shape every year,” fourth-year coach John Harbaugh said, “but I think this is the best shape that I’ve seen him in.”
For Lewis, one of the finest linebackers in the history of the game, the initial practice was actually less taxing than his typical offseason workout.
“One thing I think this down time did do for a person like myself is it gave me a lot of time to myself, which let me do anything I wanted to do as far as cross-training in so many different areas,” Lewis said. “And that’s what I did.”
Lewis added a new wrinkle to his workout: cycling. He was reluctant to discuss the topic, but once he got started he couldn’t stop.
“I don’t like giving away all my secrets, but I will give one secret away,” he said. “Cycling is one of the greatest sports in the world.”
Lewis liked the idea of improving his cardiovascular conditioning “without all that pounding.”
“Then when you get on the field and go back to running, it isn’t the same,” he said. “Because you can never take as many steps running as you do cycling. That’s one thing I really helped me out this offseason.”
The Ravens keep changing around Lewis, but he remains the one constant on the team since its first season in 1996.
Thursday’s session took place without several players from last year’s playoff club, including four who were formally released at 4 o’clock. Running back Willis McGahee, nose guard Kelly Gregg, wide receiver Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap were informed earlier in the week that their contracts would be terminated.
“This is my 16th year. I’ve seen people come and go. I’ve seen some of the greats come and go,” Lewis said. “That’s the business side of it.”
Baltimore has already re-assigned the numbers of McGahee (23) and Gregg (97), but did not give out jerseys bearing the numbers of Mason (85) and Heap (86).
There’s a possibility that Mason or Heap, or both, could return at a lesser salary.
“With those guys, it’s not like we’re totally done with them,” Lewis said. “I’m almost certain that we’ll try to work out something to try to bring those guys back in whatever capacity we can.”
Also missing from camp: safety Ed Reed and free agents who played with Baltimore last season but have not yet negotiated new contracts, including quarterback Marc Bulger, running back Le’Ron McClain and defensive backs Chris Carr and Dawan Landry.
“We’re short a bunch of guys because of these crazy rules that say your unrestricted free agents can’t practice,” Harbaugh said.
It was the first NFL practice for second-round pick Torrey Smith, a speedster out of Maryland who is expected to be the long threat that was lacking last season. Smith sat out part of the session with leg cramps.
Generally, though, Harbaugh was happy with the conditioning of his players.
“I think the overall conditioning is excellent,” he said. “I’m pleasantly surprised by the shape our guys are in. I think they’re in very good shape. We had guys blowing the conditioning test away.”
The practice marked the debut of linebacker Sergio Kindle, the Ravens’ top draft pick of a year ago. Kindle missed all of last season after fracturing his skull during a fall down a flight of stairs, but he’s been cleared to play and appeared delighted to be a part of the action.
“He looked good. Obviously, it’s one step,” Harbaugh said. “I’m just happy for him. He had joy written all over his face. He was even smiling during the conditioning test he was so happy to be here. He practiced well. So it’s going to be fun to see how he progresses. We’ve got high hopes for him right now.”
Baltimore has signed all its 2011 selections except for first-rounder Jimmy Smith, a cornerback out of Colorado.
The Ravens will practice this summer at their training facility because the lockout lasted too long for them to arrange for
training camp at their usual site, McDaniel College in Westminster, Md.
Fans cannot attend practices in Owings Mills because there’s no room for parking. But the Ravens have invited fans to attend a workout at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore on Saturday, Aug. 6.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)