For three days, the Ravens will cede most of their first-floor meeting space at the Under Armour Performance Center to the San Francisco 49ers, the team they beat in Super Bowl XLVII 18 months ago.
The teams will share a gym, showers, dining space and most notably, practice fields. And for several hours under the hot Maryland sun, the Ravens and 49ers will line up across from each other with jobs, reputations and scouting reports on the line.
"It's going to be a great opportunity for us to improve," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's really what this is all about."
NFL teams have been participating in joint practices for years, and the Ravens are the latest organization to embrace the arrangement, which has become more popular since the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011.
With no more two-a-day sessions and limitations on practice time and the amount of hitting that is allowed, coaches are turning to joint practices as a way to break the monotony of training camp, raise the level of intensity and competition, and get a better evaluation of their players.
"No doubt, the [new CBA] has led to this," said ESPN analyst Herman Edwards, who organized joint practices when he was the head coach of the New York Jets and the Kansas City Chiefs. "The thing about football, you still have to play with pads on. When you're not able to do that, you really don't know what type of football players you have, especially if he's a young player and you haven't really evaluated him yet. But when you get these padded practices against other opponents, the degree of intensity and the concentration and focus picks up. It verifies some things as a coach when you look at your team as a whole and you look at positions and matchups."
Thirteen NFL teams will take part in joint practices this summer, including three — the New England Patriots, Atlanta Falcons and Houston Texans — who will do it twice. However, the 49ers and the Ravens, who have held scrimmages with the Washington Redskins in the past but never practiced against another team for multiple days, are doing things a bit differently.
While other teams have traditionally held joint practices leading into their preseason game, the Ravens and 49ers' practices will follow their preseason-opening matchup Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium. The 49ers will practice at the Ravens' Owings Mills facility on Saturday, Sunday and Monday — none of the sessions are open to the public — before flying back to the West Coast.
Harbaugh and his brother Jim, the coach of the 49ers, hatched the plan in the offseason and have spoken regularly over the past couple of days to finalize schedules, logistics and other key details, such as the format and tempo of the practices.
"For us, as you grow as a football team, you look for new challenges," John Harbaugh said. "We have an opportunity with the 49ers to shake practice up a little bit, get our guys' attention, evaluate our guys and just become better. They are such a good team, and Jim and I understand each other. We think we can do a good job of taking care of one another and our players. For us, they are the right team and this is the right time to do this."
After competing against teammates for the past couple of weeks, several Ravens said they are excited about the joint practices, though they aren't sure what to expect.
"I don't know how they work," said cornerback Jimmy Smith, who joked about wearing his Super Bowl ring to the practices. "I've seen it on TV but every time ... there's been nothing but fights."
The Ravens have barely gotten through a practice this training camp without an altercation. And if you bring in another team known for playing with physicality and swagger, and add any lingering hard feelings from Super Bowl XLVII, and you have the potential for fireworks.
"Both teams are going to have the mindset that we're here to get good work," Jim Harbaugh told reporters Monday. "What we'll say to our ballclub is, 'We're going to treat that ballclub like it's our ballclub. Our goal is going to be to take care of them like we would be taking care of each other.'"
The potential for fights and injuries is viewed as one of the drawbacks of joint workouts. There are logistical concerns that stem from an organization having to move its training camp operation for a couple of days. The Ravens have tried to eliminate many of those issues for San Francisco.
They've provided meeting rooms for the 49ers and will hold their own meetings for those three days in the coaches' offices and in other areas, including on the racquetball courts.
A locker room and training room will be set up for the 49ers in the indoor fieldhouse. John Harbaugh said the Ravens want to be good hosts, knowing that they'll likely participate in joint practices next year at the 49ers' facility in Santa Clara, Calif.
Beyond the potential for fights, injuries and logistics woes, coaches such as Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs believe joint practices allow an opponent too close a look at their team's talent and tactics. Teams traditionally wouldn't line up preseason practices against a team they face in the regular season, but there are no secrets in the NFL; everybody talks and compares notes.
Nobody has embraced joint practices more than New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick. The Patriots are practicing against the Redskins in Richmond, Va., this week and they'll host the Philadelphia Eagles next week.
They've have had two sets of joint practices in each of the past three training camps as Belichick believes that he learns more about his team when his players go up against players from another team.
"We've worked against our guys; now we're working against players with different skills and we're working against a different scheme," Belichick said at a news conference Monday. "Their offense and their defense and their special teams are certainly not a mirror image of ours. We'll see different things. We're going to have to see that over the course of the year. That's, again, a great experience for us."
Former NFL safety Matt Bowen, who has written two articles about the benefits of joint practices for the National Football Post, believes every team should have them. He said the main benefits are increases in competition, practice speed and intensity, and the ability to set up and script situations that might not arise during preseason games.
"They are better than preseason games because you can control them," he said. "You want your No. 1 offense to get out there and compete against live competition and in-game situations. With the way training camp is structured, the No.1's just don't get enough quality reps. You need these practice sessions to prepare for the regular season."
When he was a rookie with the St. Louis Rams in 2000, Bowen remembers joint practices against the Tennessee Titans and how much he learned about the speed of the game. He expects some of the Ravens' young defenders to pick up the same lessons this week from Colin Kaepernick and company.
"You can't grade kids in [organized team activities]," Bowen said. "That's not football. That's spring practice. You can't grade minicamps. And in training camp, you can't grade unless you are going live. To grade players, you need live competition and high-speed collisions. You need these situations to evaluate these kids."
Teams participating in joint practices this year
Since the current collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011, bringing an end to two-a-day practices and limiting the amount of practice time and contact allowed, more teams have turned to joint practices to get ready for the season. Here are a look at the teams participating in them this summer.
Teams Location DatesTitans-FalconsFlowery Branch, Ga.Aug. 4Redskins-PatriotsRichmond, Va.Aug. 4-6Ravens-49ersOwings MillsAug. 9-11Cowboys-RaidersOxnard, Calif.Aug. 12-13Patriots-EaglesFoxborough, Mass.Aug.12-13Steelers-BillsLatrobe, Pa.Aug. 13-14Texans-FalconsHoustonAug. 13-14Broncos-TexansEnglewood, Colo.Aug. 19-21
While most joint practices take place leading into a preseason matchup, the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will have three workouts together in the days after their Thursday-night matchup at M&T Bank Stadium. Here is a look at the teams' schedules, starting Thursday. Practices at the Under Armour Performance Center are not open to the media, and times are subject to change. None of the practices are open to the public.
Ravens vs. 49ers, 7:30p.m., M&T Bank Stadium
The 49ers players will be off. The Ravens might have a walk-through practice; a final decision hasn't been made.
Ravens and 49ers joint practice at Under Armour Performance Center — 2:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.
Ravens and 49ers joint practice at Under Armour Performance Center — noon to 3 p.m.
Ravens and 49ers joint practice at Under Armour Performance Center — 10:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. The 49ers will fly back to the West Coast after the workout.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun