Ravens training camp no day at the beach in Westminster

Never a dull – or down – moment as promising team eyes Super Bowl berth

August 04, 2010|By Kevin Cowherd

The Odd Couple -- or at least the NFL version of it -- came to Ravens training camp Wednesday.

You had Hall of Fame coach and legendary broadcaster John Madden hugging and glad-handing old friends like a Frank Caliendo impersonation come to life. And not far away you had Mr. Buttoned Down himself, NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who is riding around in the "Madden Cruiser" visiting training camps to talk with players and the media.

"Someone ordered me a salad and Coach Madden said, 'Y'know, we've never had a salad on this bus before,'" Goodell said to much laughter. "So needless to say, I didn't eat the salad."

Later, someone told me Goodell settled for a hot dog. Yes, this is the kind of kind of hard-hitting investigative journalism we try to bring you every day in this space.

But even with NFL big shots in the house and another raucous crowd ringing the McDaniel College practice fields, the Ravens seemed totally focused on the matter at hand, which this year is all about going to the Super Bowl.

"We had another tough, hard-nosed practice this morning," was the first thing coach John Harbaugh said when he addressed reporters.

And, boy, he wasn't kidding.

If you were out there Wednesday in the awful heat and humidity, it was a great day to see how physically and mentally demanding this training camp is.

The tone was set on the very first play of drills, when Joe Flacco was hit by a defensive player and wound up on the turf.

Normally, this is the kind of thing that makes coaches turn pale and clutch their chests. Quarterbacks, after all, are the rock stars of the NFL. They are not to be hit in practice. They are not to be touched.

Even breathing on them is frowned on.

This is why they wear red jerseys so bright they can be seen from the VoyagerII satellite.

Harbaugh was asked whether it wasn't time to go over the "don't-hit-the-guy-in-red" rules.

"Yeah," he said with a smile. "We've had that conversation a couple of times. You don't want the quarterback getting roughed up unnecessarily. But sometimes you get tangled up, and that's what happened there."

Reading between the lines, this translates to: "We're not telling anyone to dial it back, even around Joe. If the big guy takes a shot now and then, well, it probably won't kill him."

The bottom line is this: The Ravens do a lot of hitting in training camp. And that's not likely to stop, even when a Derrick Mason goes down with a sprained ankle or a Willis McGahee takes a hard hit to the head.

Still, longtime observers say this isn't even the most physical Ravens training camp they've seen. They rate it somewhere between first coach Ted Marchibroda's punishing camps, at which the Ravens hit nonstop and the trainer wondered whether he would need body bags, to Brian Billick's no-worries, maybe-we'll-hit-mañana approach to practice.

"I think we've done the same amount of hitting that we've [always] done" in his three years here, Harbaugh said. "I think things have been sharper and crisper. Knock on wood, we've had far fewer little injuries. We had the one major injury [Domonique Foxworth, torn anterior cruciate ligament], but that was really before we got started. I think guys have been in better shape in the [past] three years for the type of camp we run."

You'd better be in shape to get through this Ravens training camp, especially on brutally hot days like Wednesday.

A Ravens official told me that when camp started, the team had planned to have benches on the sidelines for the players to sit on and shade tents to give them relief from the sun.

But Harbaugh nixed that plan.

To paraphrase a line from the classic movie "The Treasure of the Sierra Madre," he told the facilities people, in effect: "We don't need no stinkin' benches and shade tents."

And so there are none.

Unless you collapse from heatstroke, you won't be sitting down or catching some shade at a Ravens practice.

On the other hand, the Ravens did break out the misting machines for the first time Wednesday. All it took were temperatures approaching 95 degrees and the kind of stifling humidity they have on a tea plantation in Sri Lanka.

Still, as I watched the Ravens cool off between drills, I thought: misting machines. What would Vince Lombardi say? Or George Allen?

Maybe they'd call it Camp Creampuff.

But they'd be wrong. There's nothing creampuff about it at all.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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