Ravens veterans are going to have to set a manageable pace this season

September 04, 2014|Mike Preston

There have been times when the age of prominent Ravens veterans has gotten overlooked because of the infusion of young players.

But the older guys are aware. Occasionally the veterans huddle on the field, or in the locker room to chat.

"We laugh and joke and talk about it," said Ravens inside linebacker Daryl Smith, "but we all do some form of whatever it is for us to be ready to play. We try to express that to the young guys and see how fast they learn it. You'll learn it one way or another."

They'd better, because they will be in the same situation one day. But for now, the veterans have to carry the Ravens into the 2014 season, and that will be interesting because football is a young man's sport.

Of the 53 players on the active roster, eight have been in the league nine years or more, five of them on defense: starting linebackers Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil and Smith and linemen Chris Canty and Haloti Ngata.

Two starters are on offense: receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels. Shoot, even punter Sam Koch is 32.

"I think the approach is still the same and everybody knows it is a long season," Daryl Smith said. "We are doing everything we can and the coach is working with us. If we do get a break, we still get our work in. Everybody knows it's about Sundays and getting the maximum effort."

Some of the veterans appeared tired in the final quarter of last season.

They finished 8-8 last season and missed the playoffs for the first time under head coach John Harbaugh, who spent the offseason exploring new ways to improve.

Harbaugh has always given his veterans a day off now and then during training camp, but he seemed to monitor them more this year.

"It's probably a communication thing more than anything," said Harbaugh of trying to keep his veterans fresh. "When we had the longer training camp practices, you'd probably keep a closer eye on that and watch them move around a little bit. But even if you did, an older guy probably needs to get off his legs a little bit more — fewer reps, a little more rest.

"Our guys did a really good job all through training camp of doing all the extra stuff with recovery. We have a recovery protocol that we put in place that they really did a great job with, so it seems like it helped those guys, too."

Some of them appeared to have helped themselves during the offseason. Ngata and Suggs came to training camp in good shape. Canty put in extra practice time trying to become a better pass rusher and Dumervil bulked up to become more physical in the tough AFC North.

The only veteran who seriously struggled was Daniels, who missed extensive time with a hamstring injury. Most of the veterans have consulted with nutritionists and training specialists outside of the organization.

"We understand that this is a young man's game," Canty said. "So, you go into this paying more attention to conditioning and eating the right food so you can maintain that athleticism. You know you need to prepare for the rigors of training camp and what you have to put your body through during the season.

"There is no such thing as pacing yourself through the season. It's all about playing your best mentally and physically on Sunday and doing whatever it takes to get you to that point regardless of recovery or practice time."

In the past, the Ravens have gotten some great contributions from veterans like tight end Shannon Sharpe, safety Rod Woodson and even linebacker Ray Lewis in the twilight of his career.

But those guys were future Hall of Famers. The Ravens only have five defensive linemen on the roster, so it will be hard getting Canty and Ngata appropriate rest.

Outside linebackers Pernell McPhee and Courtney Upshaw can play end, but that would only be in extreme situations. In an ideal world, defensive coordinator Dean Pees would like to have some of the veterans take only about 70 to 75 percent of the snaps.

"We're always concerned with five guys, although we have a guy in there, Pernell, that could swing too and give us some time as defensive linemen as he has before," said Pees, who suggested the Ravens might add another defensive lineman. "But we'd rather not go that rout if I don't have to, but that would be in an emergency situation."

"Hopefully, the packages we have will dictate that and take care of themselves," Pees said. "We've got several different packages where we can get a lot of different guys playing. A lot depends on the offense we're playing, what kind of style they are playing, and what kind of personnel they are in and rather we want to match it or not match the personnel. We've got to do a good job of regulating the snaps, but at the same time we're in pretty good shape physically and I think the guys can play for quite a while."

One player who will probably endure is Steve Smith. He wants to show the league, especially his former team, the Carolina Panthers, that he can still play at the highest level.

"Some times, it just boils down to luck," Sharpe said. "Some times you don't smoke, don't drink, don't hang out and you still get injured. It's just fate."

"But when I first got to Baltimore Ozzie [general manager Ozzie Newsome] told me that he didn't want me to change, and he knew that I could still play because I had something to prove," Sharpe said. "Steve Smith is in the same situation and he is going to have a very productive season."

The Ravens want a similar outcome for the rest of the older veterans. No one questions their leadership and they all will play well early.

But when the weather changes and it gets cold outside in November and December, do these veterans have enough left to carry the Ravens?

We'll start finding out Sunday.



Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.