With coach John Harbaugh often described as the new sheriff in town, a bit of a Wild West mentality took over the Baltimore Ravens on Saturday morning at a mandatory minicamp as nearly all 85 players engaged in an old-fashioned showdown.
Once Cousins and Gordon began pummeling each other in a dispute sparked by running back Allen Patrick being taken down to the ground during a non-contact drill, the rest of the players surrounded them and began scrapping.
It took a few minutes before order was restored. Tellingly, the coaching staff merely observed the fisticuffs as the players settled their differences without interference.
"Guys are competing, tempers flare a little bit," Harbaugh said. "I think we have guys who take care of each other, even during the brawl. The thing they understand is that we’re not going to slow down practice and we’re not going to miss any reps. It takes a lot of energy to fight.
"I think as they realize the tempo of the practice is going to stay the same, it will probably happen less and less. They’re a feisty bunch."
Apparently so, because there was actually more than one skirmish.
Toward the end of practice, cornerbacks Corey Ivy and Frank Walker traded haymakers during a blocking drill.
"Don’t grab me, man!" Ivy exclaimed.
Veteran cornerbacks Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister quickly separated the combatants.
"Chill out, man," Rolle told Walker. "There’s too much at stake."
Defensive end Trevor Pryce, who was on the outskirts of the bigger fight with his helmet off seemed amused by the unscheduled heavyweight bout. However, he said the team needs to maintain its discipline.
"I guess it’s like San Quentin prison: Prove that you can fight and try to be disciplined later, shank somebody first, spend your time in the hole and then you come out a new man tougher on the other side," Pryce said. "You scrap when you’re young and think you’re tough. When they cut you, you think, "What was that for? What did I prove?’
Regardless, there didn’t appear to be any lingering hard feelings. And there were no signs of cuts and bruises.
"At the end of it, we’re all a team," Cousins said. "Coach Harbaugh definitely set a tone. They want us to get after it."
No one seemed surprised that tempers flared.
"It’s fairly intense in this kind of setting, so sometimes things boil over," Gordon said. "No hard feelings. They let us settle it like men. It’s a man’s game."
It’s possible that the battle for jobs could be sparking the tension, too.
"Whenever it’s a competitive environment, things like that happen and it’s happened ever since pee-wee league," linebacker Bart Scott said. "I think everybody swooped toward the fight to diffuse the situation."
Added tight end Todd Heap: "Man, it’s intense out there. Everybody’s trying to learn what’s going on and everybody’s a little bit on edge."
There’s a fine line, though, between toughness and being smart and productive.
"Go ahead, wrestle each other, pull each other’s facemasks, yeah, great, wonderful, have fun," Pryce said. "Now, we gotta go play the Patriots. They won 18 straight football games. The Giants won the Super Bowl. Do we really have to prove we’re all men?
"If we can get all this out of the way now, scrapping and being undisciplined and 80 men jumping in a pile together, fine. So now we’ve proved I’m tough, you’re tough, hooray, we’re all tough. Are we a good football team? What’s more important, proving you’re tough or proving we’re a good football team? That’s how I look at it."
Plus, there was another flurry of punches Friday night with offensive guard Jason Brown and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata mixing it up.
Harbaugh intervened during that exchange, according to Pryce.
"There was a fight and he shoved somebody in the face so hard to get them out of the pile it was unreal," Pryce said. "I said, ‘You back away from this crazy little man.’ He is strong and he is nuts. I told him that, too."
After inheriting a team that skidded into last place in the AFC North basement one year removed from a franchise-record 13-3 campaign, it was obvious that Harbaugh would be shaking things up.
That includes two-a-day minicamp practices, more hitting forecasted for a long training camp in Westminster with veterans not allowed to spend the night at home as well as bedchecks added to the regular curfew at the team hotel.
"You have to develop a sense of urgency at 5-11," Pryce said. "You have to earn the right to have a calm and relaxing offseason, and you can’t do that at 5-11. I feel like it’s a different intensity."
That’s exactly what Harbaugh wants.
Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, a holdover from the Brian Billick regime, was laughing in the background during the big fight.
"I’ve been around John when he absolutely lost it, but he’s always in control," said Ryan, who worked with Harbaugh at the University of Cincinnati several years ago. "When it’s not going his way, he’ll get it going his way. I think there are a lot of people that are anxious and uncertain. We want it to be chaos. That’s what John’s talked about. It’s more pressure on everybody.
"He’s a no-nonsense guy. This team is going to be modeled after him. It’s going to be a smart, tough, disciplined team. I’m not saying the team under Billick wasn’t, but it’s just a different style, a different way of doing things. We want our team to not flinch one iota. When it’s tough on everybody else, it’s just right for us."
For the Ravens, their regression from division champions into losing a franchise-record nine games in a row, including one to the 1-15 Miami Dolphins, has brought about this culture shock.
Now, it’s up to Harbaugh to make sure his message is being reinforced.
"I think they understand the concept, they also understand that individuals win football games," Harbaugh said. "Individual responsibility. It’s not just a simple thing, ‘Hey, the team comes first.’ These guys know that."