Camp won't be picnic

Harbaugh taking strict approach to training team

Ravens Training Camp Preview

July 20, 2008|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun reporter

Like they've done every year in their existence, the Ravens will travel this week to Westminster to report for training camp.

Yet the road ahead is an unfamiliar one.

This year's training camp marks the start of a new era for the Ravens, one defined by change. Change at head coach, change at quarterback, change on the offensive line and a change in attitude about preparing for the season.

Brian Billick's camp - aka "Club Billick" - was light on hitting and allowed players more freedom than anywhere else in the NFL.

Coach John Harbaugh is expected to bring a more old-school approach, which will require players to buckle up the chin strap on the field and stay together off it.

The days of players going home after practice and sleeping in their own beds are gone. Like many teams in the NFL, the Ravens will remain at the team hotel and receive bed checks each night.

The players will stick around the hotel more and also the practice field.

In an attempt to save his players for the season, Billick would rarely go extended periods without giving days off. On Harbaugh's schedule, the Ravens practice 13 straight days once the full team reports Wednesday. Their first day off is Aug. 8, the day after the preseason opener at New England.

With all of these changes, the first few weeks of training camp could be a transition period.

General manager Ozzie Newsome said he doesn't expect the team to need time to adapt.

"I think that process has already taken place during minicamps," Newsome said. "They were able to establish the tempo and the foundation that they want this team to be."

Here are some predictions of what might occur in training camp:

Flacco wins starting quarterback job

If the Ravens had their way, they would want to give Flacco time to sit and learn. But there's a feeling that Flacco might already know the offense better than Troy Smith and Kyle Boller. Flacco stood above all the quarterbacks in minicamps with his arm strength and accuracy, proving more impressive than what team officials had expected. Even if Flacco doesn't start in Week 1, he should be in line to take over during the Ravens' Week 10 bye.

Smith is an intriguing possibility because the veteran players have responded to him immediately. The 2006 Heisman Trophy winner seems to be a safe pick because he would probably make fewer critical mistakes than Flacco and Boller. It would also make sense to start a mobile quarterback early behind an unproven offensive line. But in the big picture, Smith is the long-term answer at backup.

Boller, the former first-round pick, has a shot to win the job, but he has to show he has grown out of some bad habits. He has everything that teams want in a quarterback - size, arm strength and athleticism. Boller just struggles with his consistency, making some incredible throws one week and turning the ball over the next.

Offensive line exceeds expectations early

When Jonathan Ogden retired, the Pro Bowl offensive tackle had started 176 games. This year's projected starting offensive line has combined to start 66 games.

The inexperience of the revamped offensive front is one of the greatest concerns heading into camp. But this group will look better than what many expect because of its maturity, especially on the interior.

Left guard Ben Grubbs, center Jason Brown and right guard Marshal Yanda are tough, smart blockers who will anchor this line for the next decade. Left tackle Jared Gaither has the potential to develop into a Pro Bowl player if he shows the commitment, and right tackle Adam Terry can become a full-time starter if he shows a nasty streak.

Harbaugh's system wins over fans

The consensus is that the Ravens got too comfortable with Billick's laid-back training camps. Harbaugh's philosophy is stricter, the kind of tough love that the Ravens need.

Harbaugh wants the players to remain together throughout camp to build chemistry. There have been times over the years when cohesion in the locker room has been a problem.

These changes will likely be applauded by the Ravens' fan base. Billick was often criticized for running a "soft" camp. Many thought it led to a lack of discipline on the field. With Harbaugh's new approach, that will no longer be an excuse.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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