Fourteen years ago, at the first training camp practice of his NFL career, Calais Campbell remembers walking out onto the Cardinals’ fields under the late-morning Arizona sun, full pads on. A few hours later, he’d do it all over again: more hitting, more sweat, more toil.
“The times have changed a lot over the years,” the Ravens’ veteran defensive lineman said Tuesday, smiling at the bygone era of two-a-days, “and the game has changed a lot.”
The first full-team practice of Ravens training camp that Campbell all but bounced through Wednesday would have been unimaginable to his rookie-year self. But it also would have been understandable.
After suffering through one of the most injury-riddled seasons in recent NFL history, the Ravens entered camp this year with a new preseason plan. Practices were moved from the morning to the afternoon. Stretching will be emphasized. One-on-one work will be de-emphasized. Some practices will be shorter. Everything will be more considered, more science-driven, even if team officials acknowledge that nobody can be fully protected from injury over the course of a camp.
For much of Wednesday’s practice, the Ravens worked out with the cadence of a pregame warmup. Players mostly lined up against air during the 90-minute session, focusing on playbook installation and skill work, with the offense and defense set up on their own fields. By the time practice wrapped up with only the day’s second 11-on-11 period, quarterback Lamar Jackson had attempted just 14 passes in team drills. In the final days of last year’s training camp, when the practices are longer, he was averaging between 30 and 40.
“We’ve kind of reorganized practices, especially the first four or five practices,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “We’re going to ramp our way into some of the team stuff, try to get a lot of the football movement things in, try to get our timing down as much as we can. The challenge is, your guys got to go full-speed on air, and that’s a little bit of a challenge. So you’ve got to put yourself in that setting mentally, where you go full-speed. So we were pushing them a little bit to do that because it’s a little harder with our defense over there. I thought they did a good job with it.”
The Ravens had every reason to change things up after last year. According to the analytics website Football Outsiders, the team had more “adjusted games lost” — a metric that accounts for the relative value of starters — because of injuries in 2021 than any team over the past two decades, even when prorated for a 16-game season.
Only four Ravens starters played in all 17 games, and one of them, outside linebacker Tyus Bowser, tore his Achilles tendon in the season finale. Left tackle Ronnie Stanley, running backs J.K. Dobbins and Gus Edwards and cornerback Marcus Peters, all of whom suffered season-ending injuries in the preseason, have yet to be cleared to return to practice.
After the season, Harbaugh vowed that the Ravens would “look at everything” and “change a lot.” Keeping the roster healthy, he said this offseason, was “priority one,” along with fielding a competitive team.
“I don’t know if we’ve reached any conclusions about why the injuries happened,” Harbaugh said at the NFL owners meetings in March. “Nobody has those conclusions. We’ve listened. We’ve seen all the studies. We talked to all the NFL people, all the studies they’re doing. And there really are no answers that you can say definitively, ‘This is the cause and effect.’ But we’ve looked at everything we’ve done. Like we said, we turned over every stone. We’ve changed a lot of what we’re doing.”
Some of the changes were in-house: In February, the Ravens hired Adrian Dixon as their new head athletic trainer, part of Harbaugh’s plan to make the team’s rehab program “cutting edge.” In Tennessee, Dixon had designed and managed the Titans’ rehabilitation and treatment programs for injured players.
But the most visible changes to the Ravens’ training camp — and perhaps the most significant — will affect the team’s schedule over the next month. Start with the timing of the practices themselves. After several years of morning starts, the Ravens bumped their sessions to the afternoon. Wednesday’s started at 2:35 p.m., and most will start about 1:35 p.m., meaning players will ramp up to two-and-a-half-hour practices in the most unforgiving part of Maryland summer days.
“We did a lot of homework,” Harbaugh said Wednesday. “We did a lot of studies and we really looked at it really hard. We just wanted to do the best we could. We don’t know exactly — you can never say for sure what causes anything, but we just feel like this gives us the best chance to have the best practices and to get our guys the most ready that they can be for practice.
“It’s also better from a nutrition standpoint, to be able to kind of get them ready … in the morning. I like the teaching tempo of the thing, because we get a meeting, we get a walk-through before practice goes, so that helps us. But we’ll see how it goes. Nothing’s written in stone.”
Harbaugh said Wednesday that he was impressed with the team’s conditioning, though the cloud cover in Owings Mills kept the Ravens’ fields relatively cool. Even when temperatures do spike to the mid-90s, the heat and humidity should be somewhat mitigated by a more accommodating practice regimen. Harbaugh said this offseason that every third practice will be shorter and more “execution oriented,” with fewer repetitions between the first-team offense and defense.
Cornerback Marlon Humphrey said Wednesday that in a team-wide presentation, Ravens football performance coach Sam Rosengarten broke down the players’ new daily schedule, explaining why some periods were critical to recovery, why mornings were conducive to strength training, why they needed fuel to get them through each day. Campbell noted that the Ravens are using biometric data to measure their workload in practices and better optimize their on-field performance.
“With the injuries that we had last year, I think that was a high priority,” Campbell said Tuesday. “We have a great team of people who work through that information, so it was cool. But [Harbaugh] did share it with us. We went through the whole process, the why. For the leaders, I think it was huge for us to kind of get an understanding of why we’re making the changes, because this is definitely a big change. Everyone naturally wonders why, but then you see this is the data behind it, so it’s just trying to be at our very best and be the most efficient with our work.”
Inside linebacker Patrick Queen joked Tuesday that he enters every camp with “high hopes of everything,” but inevitably, before long, “your legs are gone.” Some things in camp just can’t be avoided, injuries among them. After last season, though, the Ravens would rather be safe than sorry.
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As safe as they can get, anyway.
“Training camp is … one of those necessary evils,” tight end Mark Andrews said Tuesday. “But this is a time where you can really grow.”
Preseason, Week 1
Thursday, Aug. 11, 7:30 p.m.
TV: Chs. 11, 4
Radio: 97.9 FM, 101.5 FM, 1090 AM