Harbaugh Still Craves Consistent Routine For His Team
NOTEBOOK: TEAM IS MOSTLY HEALTHY
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- Perhaps the most shocking development of the first on-field, full-scale rookie practice was the fact that Ravens head coach John Harbaugh was sporting a goatee.
But the same man that craves continuity, stability and a set routine quickly reverted back into character, saying, "It will come off quickly."
What won't soon fade away are the repetitions, the heat and the hard work it will take to make the roster, as the approximately 40 players who were on the field at the Under Armour Performance Center found out Tuesday afternoon.
Wednesday's midday session -- taking place simultaneously with the veterans' check-in -- will be the second and final rookies-only session, but the team has actually been working with the newest Ravens for close to a week.
"We want to see the guys get acclimated," the coach said.
One aspect of their initiation that often proves toughest to conquer is the well-known conditioning test, a series of six 150-yard sprints conducted at 25-yard intervals that players must pass before being allowed to practice.
"The idea is to see how the body recovers between sets," Harbaugh said. "It's about changing direction, putting stress on the muscles, the things that happen in football.
"It provides a simple fundamental baseline level of conditioning."
The Ravens had no Albert Haynesworth-type controversies regarding the test. In fact, the Ravens' roster has a rather healthy look to it as training camp begins.
Tuesday morning, the team -- which ended last season with only six players on injured reserve -- placed just one player (linebacker Terrell Suggs) on the Non-Football Injury (NFI) list and four on the Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) sheet.
None of the five can be considered an eyebrow-raising surprise, but there was a mini-controversy of sorts regarding the infamous conditioning test that every team puts its players through when they report.
At first, it appeared that top draft pick Courtney Upshaw and undrafted tight end/fullback Bruce Figgins were put on NFI after failing the test, a series of sprints that test a player's stamina. Haynesworth infamously failed it several times two years ago.
But Upshaw and Figgins eventually both passed the test, leaving Suggs as the only player on NFI.
As for PUP, a list from which players can be removed at any time, it consists of those hurt either last season or during this year's spring practices.
On the list while recovering from knee surgeries are returner/receiver David Reed and defensive end Pernell McPhee; the latter had a minor procedure earlier this year to clean up loose bodies in the knee.
Second-round pick Kelechi Osemele (back spasms) and guard Jah Reid (calf) left the field during the April-May workouts; Reid re-strained the calf before camp opened.
If a player is still on PUP when the regular season is set to begin, he is ineligible for the first six games, just as Ed Reed was in 2010 before returning to lead the league in interceptions (eight).
"We expect (Osemele) back on the field very, very soon," Harbaugh said.
If he does return and practices this week, Harbaugh won't be surprised. After all, he has a routine to maintain.
PRACTICE REPORT: The Ravens' rookies and first-year players were officially welcomed to the NFL with sunny, hot, breezy conditions for their first practice, a late-afternoon workout.
They shared it with the team's five quarterbacks and recovering injured veterans such as center Matt Birk (leg surgery) and cornerback Cary Williams (hip surgery). Other non-rookies participating were nose tackle Terrence Cody and probable left-guard starter Bobbie Williams.
Here are a few highlights from the shorts-and-shells session:
- Birk looked to be in good shape, having taken almost every snap and participating in every walk-through with the newer Ravens. He has constantly counseled fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski, even lining up at left guard with the rookie at center during some drills.
- The team's younger wideouts and defensive backs worked on covering punts and downing them inside the five-yard line. Cornerback Jordan Mabin seemed to do the most consistent job.
- Running back Bobby Rainey, a Western Kentucky product who is sixth on the NCAA's all-purpose yards list, showed soft hands and good route-running skills. He also ran a nice cutback play after quarterback John Brantley audibled to him.
- Speaking of routes, sixth-round pick Tommy Streeter did a much better job of getting to where he was supposed to be than he did during spring practices.
- Quarterback Joe Flacco hit tight end Matt Balasavage on a quick slant and later threaded the needle to him on a pass over the middle.
- Second-string quarterback Tyrod Taylor waggled to the right and nicely executed a pass to backup tight end Bruce Figgins.
- Fifth-round pick and Cal-Poly cornerback Asa Jackson did a fine job defending passes in one-on-one drills, while undrafted wideout Deonte Thompson made a fingertip catch over the middle and executed a double-move on Mabin to get open.
- The Ravens have completed the conversion of their facility to reflect their new sponsorship entity. The access-drive entrance, the space next to the front door and a portion of the indoor field's outside wall that faces the field all now carry the Under Armour logo.
- Grandstands with tents covering them, a staple of the team's McDaniel College workouts, will surround the field until camp mode ends on Aug. 15. Approximately 200 fans per day, the winners of an online fan lottery, will fill those seats starting Thursday.
THEY'VE MADE IT (FOR NOW): During the offseason, eight regional combines and a Super Combine were held in various cities, including Baltimore, in order to showcase possible future NFL talent.
From those workouts, 69 total players were invited to training camps, including four with the Ravens: quarterback Chester Stewart, tackle Addison Lawrence, wideout Dorian Graham and linebacker Nigel Carr.
Carr and Lawrence participated in the Atlanta workout, Graham came from the Tampa Bay session and Stewart from the New York/New Jersey combine.
As for the Baltimore workout -- one of the first to be held, on Feb. 11 -- former University of Maine wide receiver Derek Session shone the brightest at the Under Armour Performance Center and the Buffalo Bills signed him to a training-camp contract.
Maine is a Football Championship Subdivision (formerly Division I-AA) school, which competes with Towson in the ultra-tough Colonial Athletic Association.
Perhaps one of the hardest-working Ravens to ever put on the uniform, center/guard Mike Flynn, was a Maine product who played 11 years in Baltimore (1997-2007).
STREAMLINED: As we tend to point out this time of year, the team's printed media guides are getting more scarce as the tendency to go green has become more prevalent.
But for fans that always used to get the guides annually -- every team's is available on NFL.com -- and like to keep up with this sort of thing, we can tell you that during the Harbaugh era, a no-frills approach has taken hold with regards to the cover design.
The front of the Ravens' 2012 guide has the helmet logo, the word "TEAM" in big block letters and the NFL shield in front of a background photo of an official game ball.
One big change this year is the additon of a more complete postseason records section, with lists of the Ravens' all-time playoff leaders in various statistical categories.
That stands to reason, for even though the Ravens have had a relatively short life span so far, they have participated in 17 postseason games, approximately one per season.
Not only that, this year's 410-page guide has a complete and more organized recap of the team's various regular- and postseason honors.
The voluminous list includes the team's seven Associated Press awards, 78 Pro Bowl berths, 54 first- and second-team All-Pro honors, five NFL Rookies of the Month, 14 AFC Players of the Month and 70 AFC Players of the Week (17 offense, 35 defense, 18 special teams).
QUOTE OF THE DAY: NFL.com staff writer Dan Hanzus took shots at both the Baltimore media and quarterback Joe Flacco when he ranked the Lee Evans play in New England last January as the ninth-biggest "choke" in NFL history.
"Yes, [Patriots cornerback] Sterling Moore got his hand in there," Hanzus wrote. "But Evans needed to hold on to that ball. On the plus side, it saved us from two weeks of Joe Flacco fluff pieces before he [would have thrown] three interceptions in the Super Bowl."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our previous entry:
As with any team, the 2011 Ravens were strong in some statistical categories and quite weak in a few others. Can you name the category in which last year's Ravens turned in their lowest-ranked performance?
We're confident that most astute Ravens fans have figured out the team's worst statistical performance came in the special-teams area.
The Ravens fell 16 spots in the annual Dallas Morning News special-teams ranking, declining from the eighth-best overall units in the league to 24th. One reason why was their performance on kickoff returns and coverage.
The Ravens were 31st in the league -- next-to-last -- in kickoff return differential, averaging 4.3 yards less per kickoff runback than returns allowed (24.9 for, 29.2 against).
But one overlooked aspect of the Indianapolis Colts' lost season was their performance in this same area. The Colts were the only team to be worse than the Ravens, running back kicks at an 18.6-yard clip and allowing a staggering 30.7 yards per kick runback, a minus-12.1-yard differential.
The league's best kickoff-differential team was the New York Jets, paced by returner Joe McKnight, who helped the team average 26.3 yards per return. The Jets allowed 21.2 per runback.
One way the Ravens can possibly solve the problem is to eliminate the uncertainty at the position. An astonishing 11 different players contributed to the team's 42 returns, and a revolving door of younger players on coverage squads didn't perform well.
Posted July 24, 2012