SUMMER CAMP OPENS @ MCDANIEL COLLEGE

Lombardi's Way SUMMER CAMP OPENS @ MCDANIEL COLLEGE

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Today the Ravens take the field at McDaniel College to start their 2006 Training Camp in an almost traditional way – without their No. 1 draft pick.  Not since signing Todd Heap on time in 2001 (that year’s No. 31 pick overall) have the Ravens had a No. 1 pick in camp on time.
 
Naturally at some point today, Brian Billick will express his annual disdain for the semantics of player agents and he’ll make strong overtures suggesting agents only hurt the clients they represent through strategic holdouts designed to somehow buck the NFL slotting system.  “It is what it is.”
 
And at some point between now and next week, everyone will make nice.  Haloti Ngata’s agent Mike McCartney will say that his client is happy to be a Raven and he’ll praise the deal as fair to the player and club and that the new deal will offer Ngata a unique chance through some cleverly designed incentive bonus clause to make more money than the slot would normally allow.
 
Ozzie Newsome will say that he’s happy that all of their picks are in camp in a timely fashion and that now they can focus on just playing football.  Brian Billick will remind us that every day a player misses camp is a lost opportunity for that player and that he places himself at risk physically and mentally and on and on and on.
 
Relax!  Ngata will report someday soon.  Soon could mean tonight and it could mean next week.  But he’ll be in
Westminster and we’ll all soon forget about this yearly game of cat and mouse.
 
It’s time for the real game…the game of football.
 
It will be interesting to see how Brian Billick conducts his eighth summer camp as the Ravens head coach.  We are all too familiar with the post season press conference and the change or be changed monologue by Steve Bisciotti.  How that message manifests itself in Billick’s approach to coaching and teaching will be one of the many interesting sub plots to the Ravens 2006 season.
 
Billick has been criticized frequently for conducting the so-called “ Camp Creampuff .”  Former players such as Shannon Sharpe have lauded Billick’s player friendly approach to camp.  Rod Woodson approvingly labeled it Club Med.  But not until the Ravens began to lose, did Billick’s camp really come under scrutiny and mockery.
 
Everyone in the pool!
 
In 1999 after a pleasantly surprising season that ended with the Ravens first non-losing campaign in their short history, no one knocked Billick’s camp.  Certainly they didn’t knock it after 2000 or 2001.
 
In 2002 the team changed during the cap purge and as the team exceeded expectations, no on knocked Billick then.  Even in 2003 when the team returned to the playoff picture despite a rookie quarterback, summer camp scrutiny avoided the radar screen.
 
But throw in a couple of sub par seasons and something or someone has to be blamed and Camp Creampuff looked like a pretty good scapegoat to many.
 
I’ve often wondered about the value of a player friendly coach.  When I think of the great coaches from years past – the Lombardis, the Shulas, the Landrys, the Nolls and now the Belichicks, I don’t think of any of them as player friendly coaches.
 
Billick is certainly viewed as one who goes to great lengths to protect his players both from the media and from each other on the practice field.  Daniel Wilcox recently spoke about summer camp and said in so many words that it is a grind that the players despise.  He added that he keeps in touch with departed players and while they may have complained about Ravens’ camps while under Billick’s guidance, when they land elsewhere, they realize that Billick’s camp wasn’t so bad.  As Wilcox explained some ex-teammates have told him that they “would have taken a pay cut to stay in
Baltimore ” after experiencing more strenuous camps.
 
Given the fact that Billick’s teams haven’t won on opening day since 2001 and they are 2-5 during his tenure as head coach, one might question if his teams are physically ready to start the season.  Have they seen fewer live bullets during practice and does that put them at a disadvantage to start the season?
 
Those that would defend Billick’s approach might argue that the NFL season is a marathon and the goal is to be playing your best football in December.  They will argue that it’s better to be relatively fresher than your opponent when playoff berths are at stake.  That approach worked well in 1999 and in 2000 when the Ravens won 7 of their last 8 regular season games and of course who could forget their roll through the playoffs on the way to Super Bowl XXXV.
 
But the Ravens haven’t been that 2000 team for a long time.  Truth be told, since that season the Ravens are a mediocre 10-10 during the last four regular season games of the last five seasons.  So the argument that the relatively light pacing of summer camp bodes well down the stretch is not supported statistically — at least not by the Ravens during the last 5 seasons.
 
Other elements besides fatigue factor into efficient play down the stretch such as injuries, locker room chemistry and motivating factors such as playoff possibilities.  So really it isn’t clear if the softer camp helps or hurts down the stretch although there seems to be enough evidence to suggest that it could hurt early in the season and a slow start is not what the Ravens need this year.
 
Not with a head coach on thin ice!
 
So it will be interesting to see what if anything Billick changes this summer.  Most think the changes will be subtle.  We’ll find out soon enough.  If Brian Billick would heed my advice, I would tell him to lose the special privilege for veterans that allows them to go home at night.  Make them stay together as a team, to form those bonds that foster an all for one and one for all environment.  Stop giving hall passes for some and not for others.  It does nothing but create cliques on the team which leads to a pecking order and a rank and file.  And when you sprinkle in losing, it creates divisiveness and discord in the locker room.
 
Live breathe and die as a team.  Together Everyone Achieves More.
 

It’s time to banish the adult swim!

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24x7 Networks, LLC's founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and CBS Sports 1300. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, Guinness, Orange Crushes and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi. More from Tony Lombardi

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