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Question: From your experiences covering the Ravens and other teams, what are some of the typical routines that players engage in during their down time between the last OTA and the first day of summer camp? What about the atypical or more unique approaches to the offseason?
Answer: During this fairly lengthy time period of no organized team activities, players are encouraged to train hard and smart to maintain their competitive edge. It’s a balancing act of getting the proper amount of exercise as well as rest and relaxation and spending time with family and friends. Most players view this time as their last opportunity to prepare their minds and bodies for the rigors of training camp and the entire season. This is their last shot to make any gains and improvements in terms of either adding or losing weight or working on individual drills and exercises.
Camp is very structured, so this is the time to work individually to improve. Some players, like anyone else would likely do, goof off a little and might put on a few pounds. It happens. It’s human nature.
I’ve heard of a few atypical approaches to training at this time, including running in a sandpit or on a beach for resistance. The goal is to come to camp prepared, and most players take it seriously and show up in optimum condition.
Question: Besides the Ravens you have covered the Titans and the Jaguars. Talk about their approach to training camp and on a scale of 1 to 10 with 10 being the most rigorous and physical, grade each head coach youâ€™ve covered in the NFL. Where do you expect John Harbaugh to fall in this scale?
Answer: When I covered the Jaguars, Tom Coughlin was in charge. His approach to camp could best be described as getting ready to go to war. He watched the same movie on the eve of camp every year. It was "Patton." His militaristic philosophy included a stringent regimen for the players and grueling workouts. He also had a ton of rules, including not allowing coaches to wear sunglasses or for anyone to sit at practice, including media and his family. He once yelled at his teenage daughter for taking a knee on the sidelines.
The players hated camp. I would say it was a 9.9 as far as hitting and how challenging it was. By comparison, Jeff Fisher in Tennessee had demanding camps with plenty of hitting, but as an ex-player, he knew when to pull in the reins. There were a lot of fights at the Titans’ camps over the years, too. I would rate the camps as a 7.5. With John Harbaugh, I’m expecting a very tough camp, probably an 8 on the scale. I do think he’ll be realistic in terms of resting veterans during the afternoon workouts and being careful with injured players. I think he wants to establish a certain standard for toughness and discipline and being in shape and there’s no way to do that other than pushing the envelope, especially early in camp. Camp Hardball is about to launch, but I think the hitting and length of workouts will taper down as camp wears on. According to one veteran who talked to me about the schedule, this is the same way Andy Reid runs his camps with the Philadelphia Eagles.
Question: The Ravens seldom have their No. 1 pick at training camp on time. What in your opinion are the chances of Joe Flacco being in camp when it opens on July 21?
Answer: Honestly, I think they will get this deal done early. It will be a five-year pact with a relatively small signing bonus, somewhere between $1 million and $2 million, with a lot of guaranteed money and incentive clauses. His agent, Joe Linta, and the Ravens’ chief negotiator, Pat Moriarty, are planning their fifth meeting currently for next week. A lot of progress has been made, but they don’t agree on all of the contract language and structure yet.
I anticipate a deal being struck in plenty of time for Flacco to come to camp on time and compete for the starting job with Troy Smith and Kyle Boller. I’ve talked to Flacco about the contract discussions and he’s not concerned at all and seems comfortable with how things are going and has been in constant communication with his representation. Linta has only had one previous holdout (Kyle Brady with the New York Jets for a few days in 1995) and got his last first-round pick, Brownsâ€™ outside linebacker Kamerion Wimbley, done early.
Question: Are you surprised that the Ravens have penciled in Jared Gaither at left tackle already despite a questionable work ethic? Wouldnâ€™t it have made more sense to create some doubt and label it an open competition?
Answer: In this case, I think they just felt that Gaither had the best combination of size, quickness and skill set to play left tackle. Their other option was to have him compete with Adam Terry. Because Terry has gained bulk and strength, they think he’s suited to play right tackle now despite his problems with footwork in the past. Plus, they wanted to move Marshal Yanda inside to right guard and have shifted Ben Grubbs to left guard and Jason Brown to center. The idea is to get the best five blockers on the field, and this seems to be their most talented and biggest group.
Gaither’s maturity and work ethic issues have followed him ever since his days at the University of Maryland where he was ruled academically ineligible after his sophomore year. He has vast athletic potential, but the concerns are his mental makeup and whether he’s strong enough physically to handle big bull rushers and create a path for Willis McGahee in the running game. Lately, Gaither seems to be taking things more seriously as he prepares to be the heir apparent to future Hall of Fame selection Jonathan Ogden.
Question: Which rookie or rookies are most likely to make an immediate impact?
Answer: Joe Flacco is going to make a legitimate bid for the starting quarterback job. He combines size, arm strength and surprisingly nimble footwork for a player of his dimensions.
Running back Ray Rice is the only rookie that’s currently projected to make an impact. He’s slated to be the third-down back and complement starter Willis McGahee. The rest of the rookies I see as special-teams contributors, especially Tavares Gooden, Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura, with wide receivers Marcus Smith and Justin Harper challenging for playing time as potential red-zone targets. Offensive tackle Oniel Cousins has a nasty streak and is a potential sleeper. He could fit in as a surprise starter on the right side if Terry, who’s recovering from ankle surgery, falters or if there’s an injury.
Question: The Ravens have some young defensive backs who are still trying to make a name for themselves. Do you expect the Ravens to keep Derrick Martin, Ronnie Prude and David Pittman on the roster in â€™08? Martin has probably played the best of the three. Does the marijuana incident in Cleveland affect his stature with the club?
Answer: I think the numbers game will likely affect at least one of these guys. Martin has displayed a better upside so far than Pittman, who has been a disappointment since the Ravens drafted him in the third round. Prude is an instinctive tough playmaker, but lacks top-end speed.
This incident at the Cleveland airport has made team officials question Martin’s judgment and maturity, but it does seem to be out of character since he had never been in trouble before. I don’t think it’s going to determine his roster status at this time. Did he handle this situation well? No, it doesn’t seem like he did. However, I don’t think it will mark the end of his tenure in Baltimore necessarily. It should be a competitive situation at training camp for all the cornerbacks on the depth chart other than starters Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle and nickel back Fabian Washington. The addition of veterans Frank Walker and Washington and Lenny Walls and the return of Corey Ivy could squeeze some of these younger, less productive players off the roster ultimately.
Question: For a team that is known to draft well the Ravens have had a rather lengthy list of Round 2 flops in the NFL Draft. Is it too soon to add Chris Chester to the list?
Answer: I think at this point that you have to wonder about why he hasn’t been able to hold down a starting job on one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL. This is the second year in a row where Chester was initially projected as a starter only to lose that job. Last year, he gave way to Ben Grubbs at right guard. This time, he’s a backup again as the swing guard-center behind Jason Brown. I think he has improved and has gained enough weight to be able to play center after playing tight end at Oklahoma. At this point, you have to wonder what it’s going to take for Chester to succeed in the NFL beyond being a capable, mobile backup.
Question: The Ravens are very thin at tight end going into camp. Todd Heap is really the only healthy tight end with experience. Daniel Wilcox has been nicked up for quite a while. Do you see the Ravens making a play for a veteran TE and of those available now, which do you think might be the best fit?
Answer: This is a precarious situation since Heap has a lengthy injury history and Wilcox is recovering from toe surgery and Quinn Sypniewski is out for the year with a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Plus, Lee Vickers has missed a lot of minicamp sessions with a hand injury and undrafted rookie Scott Kuhn shredded his knee during an offseason practice. The prognosis for Heap is fine. He’s healthy now, and Wilcox is expected to be ready for the opening of camp. Where they are unsettled is at blocking tight end, although Vickers (6-6, 275) could emerge in that role. There have been some rumors about ex-Ravens role player and special-teams standout Darnell Dinkins eventually being available since it’s crowded at tight end in Cleveland. For the time being, it’s just a rumor and there’s no concrete evidence that he’s going to hit the waiver wire or be acquired via trade. Trades within the AFC North are rare, too.
Question: What are the top five things to look for if you are a Ravensâ€™ fan planning to visit McDaniel College for training camp?
Answer: 1. The quarterback competition as rookie Joe Flacco competes with Troy Smith and Kyle Boller with Smith appearing to have the initial edge to start the season opener Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals. 2. How tough and demanding new coach John Harbaugh will be as he orchestrates his first training camp. 3. How will a young offensive line fare as the Ravens usher in the post Jonathan Ogden era? 4. Will veterans coming off injuries such as Todd Heap, Dan Wilcox, Adam Terry, Trevor Pryce, Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle adapt well to the new regime? 5. How will the players adjust to new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron’s ultra-thick playbook?
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.