A tough stance

ON THE RAVENS

Camp Cream Puff No More

Harbaugh's approach: Get physical or get lost

August 02, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

John Harbaugh is only about two weeks into his stint as the Ravens' coach, and some are already criticizing him for running too tough a training camp.

Ahh, goo-goo. Is it too hot outside? Do you want a Popsicle? Do you want Mommy to rub your little forehead?

It's not the majority of people, but it's those who don't quite understand the nature of sports, especially football. Because if they did, they could have predicted what was going to happen in this training camp.

Owners of professional sports teams like to hire people who are the opposite of those they fire. Former Ravens coach Brian Billick ran Camp Cream Puff. If a player broke a sweat, it was from running out of the heat and into the air conditioning.

Billick didn't care whether it was popular, because that style was successful under two of his former bosses, Bill Walsh and Dennis Green. It worked for them, and it worked for Billick during most of his nine seasons in Baltimore.

Harbaugh spent 10 seasons working under Andy Reid, the Philadelphia Eagles' old gruff of a coach. Harbaugh also hung around an old Michigan coach named Bo Schembechler when he was young, so you knew this was going to be a tough camp.

Harbaugh has met those expectations, and he is not going to back off because of a few injuries. He won't, and he can't. He won't because he has seen the success with this style. He can't because he is sending a message and building a foundation for the future.

Harbaugh is looking for tough, physical players who want to work hard. And those who don't, he's going to run out of town. It's not deliberate, but that's just the way he is.

A coach is eventually judged on wins and losses, and Harbaugh would prefer to have his types of players on the roster instead of those he didn't want from the previous regime.

He wants players who trust in him and his methods. If he changed direction now because of a few injuries, the players would think he was a fraud without a plan.

The injuries are overrated. The primary concern is on the offensive line, where the Ravens have lost two tackles in Jared Gaither (Maryland) and Adam Terry.

Those are significant because they were projected starters, but we're not talking about two perennial All-Pro performers. Gaither and Terry have potential, but the odds are against them ever becoming regular starters in the NFL. But with each injury report, they seem to take on the status of the next Jonathan Ogden or Larry Allen.

The Ravens have other injured players, such as Haloti Ngata and Justin Bannan, but sprains, muscle pulls and bruises are as common in training camp as Gatorade and mouthpieces.

If there were more serious injuries to players such as Ray Lewis, Todd Heap, Derrick Mason, Willis McGahee, Chris McAlister and Kelly Gregg that forced them to miss extensive playing time, then I would be concerned, but that's not happening.

Part of the reason is that the older players, such as Lewis and Trevor Pryce, take care of themselves and are in great shape. Lewis is always running around in practice, putting himself in position to make tackles, but he stays away from unnecessary contact.

And then there are veterans who fake injuries to get out of practice. They won't get hurt unless they slip on their way to the whirlpool.

But with so many young players on offense, Harbaugh has had to simulate playing conditions as much as possible, and that's through a lot of contact in practice.

It's the smart thing to do. And if he changed direction now, it would appear as if he caved in. No one knows whether Harbaugh will become a successful coach, but apparently Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti thinks so, and he gave his blessing to Harbaugh and his way of doing things by making him the new coach.

As with any new coach, Harbaugh deserves time to install his own system. Those with realistic expectations know the Ravens probably aren't a playoff-bound team in 2008.

It is a team in transition with a coach trying to lay a foundation with hard-nosed players, and he wants to weed out those on the roster who aren't.

Is his way the right way? We'll find out in a couple of years, but at least he deserves some time. The honeymoon can't be over because it has only just begun.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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