I suppose the Ravens officially opened training camp this morning, but it sure didn't feel like it.
Tucked inside the team facility in Owings Mills, Md., the Ravens got busy on their 2011 campaign, only without the familiar backdrop of McDaniel College and the hundreds of anxious fans all decked out in purple in black.
As players continued their physicals and met with coaches for meetings, the usual sights and sounds from the training camps of past seasons were strangely absent.
Speaking of absent, fans and players are still adjusting to the reality that some of the franchise's most familiar and longest-tenured players might not be back in a Ravens uniform. Yesterday the team confirmed its plans to release defensive lineman Kelly Gregg, wide receiver Derrick Mason, running back Willis McGahee and fan-favorite, tight end Todd Heap.
Heap was in the team complex around 10 this morning, and fans and teammates alike are hopeful the Ravens will aim to resign him to a smaller contract. Members of the media, however, met with one of the men who could be the future at the tight end position in second-year player Ed Dickson.
Dickson stood in front of reporters and talked about possibly losing one of his biggest mentors, the man he affectionately called "Superman," and also what the future holds for the young offensive weapon.
"I would like to first say that Todd Heap is a great individual, teacher, great teammate and he'll be missed if he's not here with us," Dickson said. "With that saying, I hope he's back with us. He taught me a lot just in that one year. He taught me how to be an overall player in this game. He's been doing it great for years, the records speak for themselves.
"All I can do is be the best player I can be and if I'm in the starting spot I'm just going to go out every day to training camp and train to be that starter like I did last year."
The news of Heap's departure certainly resonated with Dickson, who leaned on Heap as a mentor and a bridge from college to the NFL.
"My first reaction was I'm missing a brother," Dickson said. "He's gone and I'll be missing a brother because he's been nothing but genuine, nice to me and a great teammate so if it happens where he's leaving...because I understand the business aspect to the game and those guys upstairs have a job to do just like those guys on the field, so if he's not back with us it's going to be tough and me, myself and Dennis Pitta have to pick up the slack."
A year ago Dickson split time with Heap and Pitta. While Heap was the team's primary target, hauling in 40 catches for 599 yards and five touchdowns, Dickson emerged as solid replacement. Dickson caught 11 balls for 152 yards and a touchdown.
During the offseason, Dickson spent most of his time in Eugene, Ore., where he graduated in 2010 before being selected by the Ravens in the third round of the NFL Draft. With players barred from working out in the facilities, Dickson said he trained with former college teammates, including time with former standout quarterback Dennis Dixon.
Daily conditioning, along with exercises like "running hills and pushing sleds" allowed Dickson to add a few pounds to his frame. Dickson reported to camp at 257 pounds, an increase of two to three pounds, but was quick to say "it's all good weight."
Last season, Dickson earned his first start in Week 16 at Cleveland. This season, he's hoping to make it to the starting ranks well before the holidays.
"It means a lot to me that [the Ravens] have that much faith in me," Dickson said. "I've been here one year and all I can do is improve my game, come out to training camp and just play my game, just try to get better every day and work hard at this position. They didn't sign anything over to me right now. I still have competition. I love competition."