In a major contrast to the relatively laid-back atmosphere trademarked by Brian Billick, new coach John Harbaugh wants to crank up the volume.
During the annual NFL owners meetings that concluded Wednesday, Harbaugh outlined a more demanding, high-energy regimen that will include fully-padded, contact practices once per day.
Camp Creampuff has become a relic of the past.
"Football is a contact sport," Harbaugh said. "You’ve got to practice blocking and tackling, finishing blocks. You best do that with pads."
Seeking to build camaraderie, Harbaugh is requiring all players to remain at the team hotel during camp and has instituted bed checks as an expansion of an existing curfew.
Under Billick, veterans were given the option to spend their nights at home following the first few days of camp.
Although players won’t see as much of their families during camp, the idea is to foster teamwork and a strong work ethic.
"We’re going to stay in Westminster," Harbaugh said. "There’s a certain camaraderie that goes with that, a certain sacrifice. I don’t see any reason for guys to be driving home at night during training camp.
"It’s late at night and then they have to be back first thing in the morning. Maybe it’s even a safety issue, but that’s what training camp is: everybody there together. It’s how you do
How the Ravens will conduct training camp will be more difficult, but it won’t be foolhardy.
Harbaugh intends to rest veterans when necessary to avoid injuries.
"That’s our 30-and-over club," he said. "They don’t need as many reps. They need more recovery time."
Harbaugh also plans to begin training camp earlier than usual, starting the week of July 20 or July 27. That’s a business practice mirrored by Philadelphia Eagles coach Andy Reid, Harbaugh’s former boss.
Plus, Harbaugh said he’s going to increase the amount of live situations that players are exposed to in practice to help their preparation for games.
"I don’t know if we’re going to have a tougher training camp per se," Harbaugh said. "We need to practice all the things that are going to come up in a game. You can’t manufacture situations for every player in the preseason. We want to get David Pittman in that situation where he’s got to make that play on 3rd-and-5, get a guy down and know where the sticks are at."
Harbaugh hasn’t limited his intensity and enthusiasm to camp, extending that approach to the offseason conditioning program.
He hasn’t hesitated to roll up his sleeves in the weight room, spotting players on the bench press.
"I’m involved," he said. "I spotted a couple guys on the bench the other day. ‘C’mon, gimme another one.’ I try to make sure they hold that pause at the top."
A few times per week, the players meet with their position coaches and perform football drills indoors on a voluntary basis.
"You feel like you started practice," Harbaugh said. "It’s like college when the freshmen come back. You feel like there’s a buzz. You feel like, ‘OK, we’re starting football.
"I think there’s momentum being generated in the offseason program," Harbaugh said. "The weights are clanging. The chalk is flying. The music is blasting. Guys are laughing."
The hope is to jumpstart the team after a disappointing 5-11 campaign that landed Baltimore in last place in the AFC North.
"Nothing you did in the past means anything," Harbaugh said. "Everything can change. We’ve got a chance to be a really good football team."
NOTES: As Harbaugh mingled with famous head coaches like the New England Patriots’ Bill Belichick this week at The Breakers hotel, it was another reminder of his career progression. "Coming here, you walk into the building and you see the faces and it’s kind of like, ‘Whoa,’" Harbaugh said. "My wife and I, we were hiding in the lobby thinking we were going to be thrown out." … Harbaugh was complimentary of McDaniel’s upgraded athletic facilities. "McDaniel looks great," he said. "They’re doing the fields over. I think they’ve done a great job with that building. The weight room is fabulous. It’s a nice setup."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Photo by Sabina Moran