WESTMINSTER, Md. (AP) -The first time he showed up at an NFL training camp, Todd Heap joined the Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens under the scrutiny of a national television audience.
HBO was filming the series ``Hard Knocks,'' and Heap, as the team's top draft pick, was the subject of unmerciful hazing from veterans Shannon Sharpe, Ray Lewis and Tony Siragusa. It made for great television.
Behind the scenes, however, Sharpe dutifully played the role of a tutor, sharing with the rookie much of the knowledge he gained through years of playing in the NFL.
And now, seven years later in the exact same training camp location, Heap - the Ravens' career leader in receptions and yards receiving - is playing the same fatherly role to a crop of young tight ends.
If Quinn Sypniewski or Kendrick Ballantyne needs to know about a pass pattern, a blocking assignment or the best local restaurants, all they have to do is ask the veteran of the bunch: Todd Heap.
``You learn from the guys you come in with. When I came in, Shannon Sharpe was the same way. When I needed to have a question answered, he was there,'' Heap said. ``He was like another coach on the field.
``I've always kind of taken that same mentality. You see these young guys come in and you see how talented they are, and you know you can speed up the process so they can help the team. There are a lot of little things we see on the field because we've experienced it.''
There is no questioning Heap's credentials. He's played in two Pro Bowls, caught 316 passes for 3,658 yards and 26 touchdowns.
He will unquestionably play a big role in the Baltimore offense again this season, but this month Heap's primary responsibility is to help the young tight ends develop into contributors on a team with legitimate Super Bowl aspirations.
``He's the old man now. He's a great leader for these guys, having learned from a guy like Shannon Sharpe,'' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. ``Now that passes on down to Quinn Sypniewski and Ballantyne and all the guys that are here. That's the kind of transition of leadership that you want.''
Ballantyne, a rookie free agent out of Northeastern, has tapped Heap for any information that would enable him to secure a place on the squad.
``He knows what's going on out there and has no problem helping us out,'' Ballantyne said. ``He coaches us as much as the coaches do.''
Heap enjoys being a mentor, but what really excites him about this training camp is his health. A shoulder injury and an ankle sprain forced him to practice gingerly in each of the past two seasons, but this summer he's operating at full speed - and loving it.
``Finally, I feel good coming out here, excited to practice every day,'' he said. ``I'm not as worried about things like, if I cut on this pattern, will it make my ankle to do this or that? I can throw all that out and just have fun.''
Back in 2001, injuries weren't a concern for Heap. His main objective was just to survive the razzing from the veterans.
``The approach is still the same, but it's a little bit different atmosphere from my perspective,'' he said. ``Now I've got a couple of rookies and I can let one of them take my helmet in every once in a while. I say, 'Hey, this is what I had to do, so you get to do it a couple times.' But yeah, I don't watch too many reruns of that 'Hard Knocks.' It seems like too long ago.''
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