No more kid gloves with hands-on style

Coach: With one of the NFL's youngest teams, Brian Billick will be more of a teacher at training camp - and less of a pussycat than he was during off-season workouts.

July 26, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

Mike Flynn couldn't believe his eyes.

During recent off-season camps, the Ravens center watched his young teammates make countless mistakes and waited for coach Brian Billick to erupt into a frenzy.

But there was nothing. No yelling. No harsh words. Not even a nasty glare.

Flynn never got such slack, vividly remembering the daily chewing-out sessions in 1999 by the rookie head coach for anyone who messed up. One time, Billick threw Flynn out of practice for jumping offside, cussing him out for good measure.

So, what does he think of Billick's new coaching style?

"He's like a puppy dog now," Flynn said. "Where was that guy when I was playing?"

When the Ravens' training camp begins today, however, Billick might start leaning toward his old pit bull ways.

The Ravens are one of the league's youngest teams - 62 of the 82 players in camp have two years or less of NFL experience - and Billick is done coddling this group. If a series of mistakes occurs, Billick intends to stop practice and blow off steam to refocus his team.

"Like the first year, I'm going to have to make the point to this group sometimes that, `Hey, this is unacceptable,' " said Billick, who began flashing a grin. "To impact it a little more, I may be more of the loving figure that Mike Flynn is used to."

Despite the change in temperament, Billick seems a good fit for this rebuilding process.

He's a players' coach as well as a teacher. He is obsessive about details and usually can find the right way to make his lessons stick.

In previous seasons, he would be more of an observer at camp and wait until meetings before correcting his veterans. But the youth of this team will force him to become more involved in practice. In one off-season special teams drill, he jumped right in with his players and covered a kickoff.

"It's very much an instructional camp," said Billick, who has compiled an impressive 35-19 record in three years with the Ravens. "You will see me much more hands-on, much more animated than those who have watched the past two years. There's a certain energy level I want to maintain. By the same token, I also have to make sure I don't burn these guys out.

"There's a fatigue that comes with anxiety. The young players are much more anxious. Even though this has to be an upbeat, enthusiastic camp, I have to be careful not to wear them out."

Billick always tries to push the right buttons with his team.

Whether it's a guest speaker or a film clip, he always has his team in the right mind-set. To stress the importance of believing in oneself, Billick once showed a scene from the movie Unforgiven in which Gene Hackman's character says that being fast on the draw is all good and well but the guy who can be steely-eyed, poised and confident is the guy who's the best gunfighter.

Said Flynn: "Motivation works real well with young guys. The game of football is half mental and getting into the right frame of mind. Once we get our team down, the way Brian coaches will be a real asset."

The one constant that remains with Billick is that he'll continue to treat his players like men.

Although he labored over whether to tighten the reins on his new bunch of kids, he decided keep his policy of no bed checks. He wants to send the message that he trusts them.

"These young players need to learn accountability," Billick said. "I want to be able to treat these young players the same way as the veterans. Is there a chance for something to go awry or for that to be violated? Certainly. And we'll address that at the appropriate time.

"But part of the teaching curve is for them to understand that I'm not your college coach and I'm not going to hold your hand and make you get up and run in the morning if you're not doing what you're supposed to be doing. You're a professional now. As a professional, you do what you're told."

Billick acknowledges that this camp will be a learning process for him, too.

As an NFL coach for the past decade, he has never had to deal with this much youth. But Billick refuses to hold back anymore, which means the rookies will learn whether his bark is worse than his bite.

"I'm excited about these young guys learning," Billick said, "even it's going to be tough love sometimes."

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