For hungry Ravens coach John Harbaugh, yesterday's gone

There are no fancy slogans this season, like "Play like a Raven," or talk of 53 mighty, mighty men.

Unlike some other Super Bowl winners, the Ravens aren't declaring that the road to the next championship runs through Baltimore, and they aren't reminding people that they are the defending champions.

It's all been quiet, not even video clips of Anquan Boldin, Ray Lewis or Ed Reed. All the confetti is gone.

The Ravens have moved on from last season.

"I feel young. I really do," said John Harbaugh, who is entering his sixth season as Ravens coach. "It's like I just started yesterday, and I have to prove myself again. I would say that's probably a good thing."

The Ravens' unofficial theme of 2013: Stay hungry. That's what Harbaugh is preaching, and he believes that is the only way to forget about last year's championship and get on with tomorrow.

Did you notice that when the Ravens were introduced for the first home preseason game this year, there was no "Ladies and gentlemen, your defending Super Bowl champions" as they ran onto the field?

It wasn't coincidental.

When training camp opened, Harbaugh set the tone immediately, squelching most of the questions about repeating, and even told the media to "get over" the storyline.

He annoyed some people. I laughed. It was calculated, almost as predictable as offensive tackle Michael Oher's jumping offside every game.

"Was I setting a tone?" asked Harbaugh, with a slight grin. "Last year's champions are last year's champions and this year's champions will be this year's champions, and that's a fact. The one and only thing I have said about repeating is that this is a great opportunity and that this year's Ravens team is the only one with that opportunity. Thirty-one others won't, and that's unique."

And that's it, folks — that's all you're going to get about repeating. It might sound a little smug, but it's part of the evolution of Harbaugh as a coach. Never has he been more confident in himself, his philosophy, his system and his assistant coaches.

He should be.

It's strange that he isn't mentioned in the same breath as other top NFL coaches, such as Bill Belichick, Tom Coughlin or even Mike Shanahan. Harbaugh's record is quite impressive.

He has been to the playoffs every year as a coach, has won a Super Bowl, has coached in three AFC championship games and has an overall record of 63-30. Only Bill Cowher, with six, has more consecutive playoff seasons (1992-1997) to start an NFL coaching career.

"His results speak for themselves," said Cowher, the former Pittsburgh Steelers coach. "Just looking at John, I coached special teams just like he did. He came in being a special teams coach. He does a very good job of understanding his team, of keeping things status quo, of being real with them.

"I think it's one of those things again [where] he surrounds himself with good coaches, which is a big part of the success of any organization. He's a good manager of people. He understands the game, and he respects the game. He's a leader. I think he obviously inspires people around him."

That wasn't always the case. When Harbaugh became the head coach here, he had a Napoleon complex. When challenged, he didn't mind telling everyone he was the head coach, which irritated fellow coaches and employees inside The Castle.

But Harbaugh always has been a good listener, and his mind is like a sponge when it comes to learning the game.

"What do you think?" he often asks.

Over the years, he has grown. When he came to Baltimore, he already had the special teams and defensive background as an assistant in Philadelphia, and he spent a lot of time learning the offensive side from former coordinator Cam Cameron.

Harbaugh always has been old-school when it comes to practice and discipline, but he was masterful in handling grumpy veterans, such as Bernard Pollard, Reed and Boldin, as well as an aging star, such as Lewis in the second half of last season.

Harbaugh still has an edge but is more thoughtful. He doesn't believe he is the smartest guy in the room, but make no mistake, this is his team.

It's all been scripted. Look at the free-agent additions in defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears, linebacker Elvis Dumervil, wide receiver Brandon Stokley and tight end Dallas Clark. They're not only good players, but also high-character guys.

Six of the team's 10 draft picks this spring were captains of their college teams, which shows Harbaugh isn't looking back, but for future leaders. Everything about Harbaugh and the Ravens points forward.

Asked two weeks ago whether he had consulted any coaches about the pressures or dangers of repeating as a champion, Harbaugh quickly shook his head no, but then remembered his father, Jack, a former college coach and his mentor.

"It's an everyday thing. He just said, 'If you get ahead, stay ahead,'" John Harbaugh said.

"You get up in the morning and stay out in front of everybody else. Right now, the work ethic is great on this team, as good as it can be coming out of training camp. Now we just have to keep building on it."

Most of the modifications were made before last season, when the Ravens changed their stretching routine and weight-training sessions. In 2013, it's about the big head game.

There isn't any talk about the miraculous comebacks or overcoming major injuries from last season. There are no pictures of owner Steve Bisciotti or Harbaugh standing on the stage in New Orleans celebrating as the confetti dropped and the entire world watched.

That came to an end during the same week the Ravens went to the White House and received their Super Bowl rings during the offseason.

"It's about proving yourself again, and we have a lot of guys who want to do that," Harbaugh said. "We never want to lose that desire."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

 
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