Harbaugh looks for team players

Ravens coach quickly puts his stamp on program with policies that promote group over individuals

May 11, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

Earlier this year, cornerback Samari Rolle was shocked when he went to his locker.

His clothes were gone. So were his family pictures and his nameplate.

"I didn't know if I was still on the team," Rolle said.

Rolle was still part of the team, but the Ravens' old ways of living were clearly gone.

In one of his first moves after taking over for Brian Billick, Ravens coach John Harbaugh shook up the locker room, mixing offensive linemen with defensive ones and putting linebackers next to quarterbacks.

Harbaugh's philosophy is based on - as the sign that welcomes players into the locker room reads - "Team, Team, Team."

Building cohesion is considered his biggest challenge in taking over a 5-11 team that had a reputation of having a fractured locker room.

"In the past, the perception around here was the offense and defense was separated," Rolle said. "But offensive and defensive guys get along great. But perception becomes reality. He's trying to change the culture, and you can't go against it."

Inside the indoor facility there's a sign over the goal post that reads: W.I.N. - meaning What's Important Now. A placard at the outdoor fields reads: "Work Hard. Stay Loose. Stay Focused. Be Accountable. Take Care of One Another."

Other changes in Harbaugh's first few months as coach include:

Players are allocated only one locker. In the past, some veterans (such as Ray Lewis and Steve McNair) would have multiple ones known as "condos." Now, if a player is cut or released, the locker is boarded up until a new player needs it.

There are no benches at practice. That means players aren't allowed to sit during their down time because other teammates are still working. The no-sitting rule also applies to reporters covering minicamps.

The television show Ravens Wired, a moneymaking production that featured one player miked up each week, was nixed by Harbaugh. The reason: It promoted individualism.

And the biggest change comes in a few months: Players will be required to stay at the team hotel during training camp, where bed checks will be enforced.

"The change that [Harbaugh] brought in is a great change," Lewis said. "The change [is about] character and integrity, and it's really all about the team concept. This is John Harbaugh's era. If you're with that, you're with that."

At this point, not all the players are "with that."

During yesterday's minicamp, players mobbed the field when rookie offensive tackle Oniel Cousins fought with defensive tackle Amon Gordon. About 20 minutes later, cornerbacks Corey Ivy and Frank Walker got into a heated argument and had to be separated.

"Right now, we seem more intent on picking on each other than improving as a football team," defensive tackle Trevor Pryce said. "I guess it's like San Quentin prison. You prove that you can fight, and then we'll teach you to be disciplined after that."

The Ravens might not truly bond until this summer's training camp, which will be much different from those over the past nine seasons.

Under Billick, veterans were allowed to go home after the first week of camp. His philosophy was to treat the players like men.

Under Harbaugh, the players will all eat and sleep under one roof. The intent is to foster camaraderie.

"Our thought right now is Coach makes the decisions, and we'll go by what he says," tight end Todd Heap said. "That's what happens if you're going to be on this team."

But will staying at the team hotel instead of going home be a tough adjustment?

"I'm sure it will be," said Heap, who has a wife and three children. "I'll let you know when I actually go through it."

Even with these changes, the players don't view Harbaugh as a hardened disciplinarian.

Harbaugh has been energetic and extremely personable with the players during and after practice. When Friday's minicamp ended, Harbaugh took linebacker Antwan Barnes to the side to work on a special teams drill.

He has also spoken to players several times on the phone during the offseason.

"He seems different," Rolle said. "He's a person that is talking to you on the same level. You don't feel like you're being spoken down to."

Whether you're a starting cornerback like Rolle or the fifth-string tight end, Harbaugh has made his philosophy known: No one player is bigger than the team.

So, how will anyone know whether the Ravens truly understand that?

"It's going to show on the field," Heap said. "Everyone that steps in this facility sees the signs and sees what they say. We'll see if it all sinks in for everybody."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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