The sense of optimism that surrounded the Baltimore Ravens as they gathered for the start of training camp Thursday was dampened somewhat by news that they had lost one of their players before the first practice.
Cornerback Dale Carter, a 12-year veteran who was signed by the Ravens in June, will most likely miss the entire season after being treated for a blood clot in his lung this month. He is taking blood thinners and will remain on the medication for six months. Ravens Coach Brian Billick characterized Carter's situation as being "very serious, to the degree where it was actually life-threatening" at one point.
It's the latest setback for the 34-year old Carter, a four-time Pro Bowler who has been suspended by the NFL twice for violating the league's substance abuse policy. Carter said that he was working out in Texas when he felt a pain in his side and couldn't breathe. He went to the emergency room and was hospitalized for a week.
"I thank God I'm here today," Carter said. "Of course, you don't want to miss football, but you start to put things in perspective. It's Plan B time now. I've got to get healthy and well first of all, before anything else."
That was the only truly surprising news as the Ravens prepared for their first practice Friday morning.
Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister, as expected, was the only no-show as players checked in. McAlister, the team's franchise player, has not signed his one-year, $7.1 million tender, which means he technically is not under contract and cannot be fined for missing camp.
The six-year veteran is reportedly seeking a long-term deal similar to the one that Champ Bailey received from Denver ($63 million with $18 million signing bonus).
Ravens officials have said that they will not negotiate a long-term contract until McAlister has signed the one-year tender. Billick said that he is comfortable with the circumstances surrounding McAlister, though he did not know when McAlister would report for camp. A message left for McAlister's agent, Mitch Frankel, was not returned.
Wide receiver Clarence Moore, a sixth-round pick out of Northern Arizona, signed a three-year contract Thursday, which means that all seven of the Ravens' draft picks have signed.
And even the coach made contract news. Billick received a new multi-year contract from new owner Steve Bisciotti on Wednesday. Terms of the contract were not released by the team, though the Baltimore Sun reported in Thursday's editions that the deal is worth an estimated $4.5 million per season. It replaces an extension he had been given, which would have paid $3.2 million for the next two seasons."The fact that it is not just an extension but a whole new contract, and the faith that shows that Steve has in the direction that we're going and the relationship that Ozzie [Newsome, the Baltimore general manager] and I have, I'm as excited about that as I am about the contract itself." Billick said.
Linebacker Peter Boulware (knee) and backup quarterback Anthony Wright (shoulder) will not take part in training camp drills, as they are both rehabilitating after offseason surgeries. Cornerback Gary Baxter, who was limited during minicamps after undergoing offseason surgery for a hernia, said he will participate in Friday's practices.
Billick will open camp with a team loaded with experience, one coming off the AFC North championship. The Ravens have returning starters at 24 of 25 positions (including the two kickers and long snapper). There is no quarterback controversy, unlike last year, when then-rookie Kyle Boller and Chris Redman battled for the starting position; Boller is the clear-cut starter.
Billick compared the buzz surrounding this year's camp to that of 2001, the season after the Ravens' Super Bowl victory.
"This is going to be different," Billick said. "Two years ago, I sat here and told you, tape your ankles and grab your backside, we don't know what's going to happen. We told our fans, jump on board with these young guys, because they're going to be here for a while.
"Last year, we stood up here and said we thought of ourselves as a playoff team, only one year removed from the cap purge, knowing very likely that we could be starting a rookie quarterback, and lived up to that fruition. There's no backing down from that now."