Former Baltimore Ravens head coach Brian Billick's training camp was widely known as "Camp Creampuff." When John Harbaugh took over this year, the word was that he was going to work the players a lot harder in camp than in the past. The apparent result has been a rash of injuries, most notably to the young offensive linemen, who need the practice as much as anybody. Many media blame Harbaugh's increased tempo and hard hitting for the injuries and are now wondering whether this change is the reason that the players are dropping like flies.
At the same time, the players all seem to disagree with the media's assessment of the situation, and that is good enough for me. Trevor Pryce went as far to say that even Brian Billick's camps were much more physical than his former Denver Broncos coach, Mike Shanahan's camp was. Pryce went on to say that he had trained harder this offseason than ever before, was in the best shape of his life and found the pace of camp fine with him. The players said the number of reps and the pace of drills have increased, but the injuries are more of a fluke problem than one that can be blamed on Harbaugh's intensity.
Give me a break! The injuries are just an unfortunate series of events that have hit the guys who carry the most weight and constantly put the most pressure on their ankles and knees than any other position in football. They are constantly shuffling their feet and repositioning to fend off the rushing defensive linemen, and absorbing an unbelieveable amount of pounding on every snap. Many of the younger players are now getting so many more repetitions than they have ever had in the past as reserves. Some negative thinking radio sports talk hosts feel that the players should be "eased" into the increase in reps, which they say would better condition the players for the more intense days to come. I say this is training camp and the players have been staying in shape all year around and come into camp in good shape. If not, then they are in for a boatload of problems, the least of which will be sitting on the bench due to their lack of preparedness.
However, these injuries cannot and should not be blamed on the so-called tougher camp of new coach John Harbaugh. The Ravens did not seem prepared for the 2007 season, both physically and mentally. The reserves did not seem ready for the large amounts of playing time they received due to injuries to the starters throughout the season. Perhaps the faster pace and increase in repetitions of the drills will give them more experience to be better prepared in case similar things happen again in 2008.
Hopefully, the current rash of injuries will not bleed over into the regular season. So far, it doesn't seem as if any should cause the starters to miss opening day and though the time off of practice certainly won't help, the reserves should benefit from the increase in play during the preseason. We've just learned that newly acquired cornerback Fabian Washington was suspended for the first game of the regular season for a domestic abuse issue prior to coming to the Ravens, but he will continue to be allowed to practice in the meantime. The race for the starting QB position still appears to be very much up in the air, with no clear leader at this point.
The Ravens kick off their preseason schedule at New England next Thursday evening (August 7th). Who lines up behind center to begin the game appears to still be undecided and should not be viewed as anything when that is finally announced. At the same time, the QB situation will be a lot clearer after the game and I fully expect Joe Flacco to be holding the clipboard by the time the regular season gets underway. Veteran Kyle Boller and second year player Troy Smith should end up fighting for the first team snaps. Unfortunately, Boller consistently looks great on one play, then horrible on the next (so what else is new?), while Smith seems more confident but not exactly earning the starting nod.
The next few weeks will unravel all these questions. My recommendations to the fans and especially the overly-dramatic-to-garner-ratings sports talk radio and print media, is to sit back, relax and be patient, as this camp will end up fine and the Ravens will come out of the tunnel on September 7th ready and able to crush the Cincinnati Bengals!