Billick institutes radical change: health

Ravens notebook

Coach keeps pounding to minimum, leaving team nearly free of injuries

August 05, 1999|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

Ravens head trainer Bill Tessendorf has been making regular trips to the dining hall for lunch, just another sign that coach Brian Billick has set a new tone in his first training camp.

During former coach Ted Marchibroda's camps, the training room typically was packed with wounded for several hours after the morning practice. Tessendorf and his staff either would have lunch delivered to them or skip the meal. That is not the case in 1999.

In years past, it was not uncommon to see at least a handful of players working on the side daily with former strength coach Jerry Simmons, instead of participating in practice.

The old Ravens lost players to serious injuries during the first week of back-to-back camps. Remember two years ago when linebacker Ray Lewis suffered a severely sprained neck and left Western Maryland College via emergency helicopter?

One week into Billick's camp, where are all the injuries? Only rookie wide receiver Brandon Stokley, who suffered a dislocated right shoulder on the camp's second day -- and returned to the field by Monday -- has been hurt while in camp.

"My numbers [in the training room] are down," Tessendorf said. "This is as intense, maybe more intense in some ways, than other camps [here]. But what I see, compared to other camps, is we're not beating the hell out of each other."

Billick set up his camp schedule with the future in mind. Keep the players' legs and minds equally fresh. Make sure they are around with something left to give in November and December.

Hence, a morning practice in pads is followed by a shorter, afternoon workout in shorts. Hence, players have every other night and each Sunday off. And when the team is working in pads, strict limits on contact are observed.

"I think [the lack of injuries] is symptomatic of a couple of things," Billick said. "No. 1, the guys came here in shape. No. 2, they understand what we want. Let's not do anything stupid."

Billick picks his spots in which to let the players go after each other. Like in yesterday morning's final, 10-minute segment, the hitting was crisp, yet controlled. Even middle linebacker Lewis has stopped nailing people with abandon.

Billick "gives us the opportunity to hit at certain times, but there's more talking and understanding the game. He knows we can hit," Lewis said.

"There's a big difference at this camp, because he gives us a lot of rest. That helps keep us focused on being competitive and getting ready for games, which is a big difference from the last two years."

"He's not trying to beat you down and rebuild you. He's trying to build you and get you ready to play," offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden said of Billick. "His way is beneficial to the mind and the body.

"I love Ted [Marchibroda], but our camp last year was so physical. We had 10 or 12 straight days of two-a-days in pads and it took a toll on us. There was a lot of contact that put you in the training room.

"My body feels so much better [this year]. I feel like I'm out there getting things done. I don't feel like I'm fighting through the pain. Hopefully, that will pay off for us."

Brown fills gap

While linebacker Peter Boulware (shoulder) continues his rehabilitation at training camp, third-year linebacker Cornell Brown is determined to make the most of his newfound practice time.

Brown, a sixth-round draft pick in 1997, already has made a mark on special teams. For the past week, he has taken all of Boulware's repetitions with the first team.

"The biggest thing I can take from this is to be able to function with the first team and let the coaches know that I can step in, and the defense won't miss a beat," said Brown, who played at Virginia Tech.

"I thrive on special teams. I love it. But I want to be a starter," he added. "That's my whole goal. That's what I work for every year. I want to have my name mentioned with the Boulwares and Lewises and the [Mike] McCrarys. Those guys have a lot of fun. It would be lovely to get out there with those guys."

Until Boulware makes his re-entry, Brown should enjoy his time in the limelight.

Extra gear for Stokley

Wide receiver Brandon Stokley has had an adventurous first week as a Raven. First, he missed a practice while the team and his agent were finalizing a three-year contract. Then, he dislocated his shoulder during his second workout. Three days later, he was back on the field.

Since then, Stokley has been up and down. He has made some eye-catching grabs, such as a reception he gathered in for a touchdown in the corner of the end zone yesterday.

But he also has dropped a noticeable number of passes, no doubt a byproduct of the shoulder harness he is wearing, which prevents him from raising his right arm completely.

And don't think the pain has gone away.

"He's a tough kid and he heals quick," Billick said. "But give me a sledgehammer and give me a whack at you and let me see if you can come back in three days and lift that arm.

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