<
>

McNair calls first Ravens practice 'mind boggling'

OWINGS MILLS -- Steve McNair has three months to learn a new
football language. He took his first tentative step Tuesday when he
practiced with the Baltimore Ravens.

"It's mind boggling right now," said McNair, who signed a
five-year contract worth a maximum $32 million. "I think the
verbiage is the most important thing right now. Once I can feel
comfortable and visualize the formation and the routes that they're
running, things will be OK." But, he added, "It's like starting
all over again."

The Ravens traded a fourth-round draft pick to the Tennessee
Titans for McNair, sending the veteran quarterback back to the
classroom for his most urgent cram session since he entered the
league 11 years ago. The Ravens open the regular season against the
Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sept. 10.

A three-time Pro Bowl selection, McNair often appeared hesitant
Tuesday. He completed his first pass in team drills to tight end
Todd Heap, but struggled at hitting receivers in stride. One late,
errant pass was nearly intercepted, but defensive back Robb Butler
dropped the football.

"He was thinking a lot," Ravens coach Brian Billick said of
McNair, a 2003 NFL Co-Most Valuable Player. "He looked a little
like a rookie coming out here. Obviously, he's got a lot to absorb
right now."

McNair acknowledged that the experience was a bit confusing and
that it felt a bit strange to wear a No. 9 purple jersey after
spending his career with Tennessee.

The Titans plays kept flashing through his head.

"I had a few mishaps out there," McNair said. "I think I used
one of my calls I had last year with the Titans. I told the guys to
just be patient with me."

McNair plans to meet regularly with offensive coordinator Jim
Fassel, who adjusted his vacation plans to get McNair up to speed
before training camp in Westminister, Md. on July 30.

One major point of emphasis for McNair will be learning the
Ravens' pass protection schemes. That's for his own safety.

"A confused quarterback is usually confronted with a barrage of
blitzes. If he's confused about protections, that's when he's going
to get whacked," Fassel said.

The Ravens plan to accommodate their offense to suit McNair's
strengths. Entering his 12th season, McNair usually operates as
a pocket passer.

"Learning a new system is a lot easier for a receiver than a
quarterback, but I don't think it will take him that long," said
Derrick Mason, who led Baltimore in receptions last season after
eight seasons playing with McNair and the Titans. "He's shown the
ability to adapt."