By Jeff Zrebiec, The Baltimore Sun
8:00 AM EDT, June 27, 2013
NFL coaches and team officials have a love-hate relationship with this time of year, the five or six-week stretch that links the end of mandatory minicamp with the start of training camp.
The love part comes with well-deserved time off and opportunities to take vacations or spend extended time with family. It’s a nice respite from 18-hour days at the team facility, from dealing with the stress of
the regular season and the evaluating, scouting and team-building that occupies most of the offseason months.
But with that comes the angst of having most of the 90-man roster dispersed to different parts of the country. There is no way to keep an eye on players to make sure they are working hard, staying focused and staying in shape. There are no daily meetings or practices to occupy a player’s time, attention and energy.
What there is a lot of for players is free time, distractions and different influences pulling on them.
I bring this up obviously because of the recent negative news that has dominated the NFL landscape. It culminated yesterday with the arrest of former New England Patriots tight end Aaron Hernandez, who was charged with murder and several gun violations following last week’s shooting death of Odin Lloyd.
Earlier in the day, rookie linebacker Ausar Walcott, who was signed by the Cleveland Browns last month as an undrafted free agent, was arrested in New Jersey and charged with attempted murder for allegedly punching a man in the face outside a gentlemen’s club.
The two arrests continued a disturbing offseason trend for the NFL. According to multiple reports, 27 active players have been arrested since the Ravens’ victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl
XLVII on Feb. 3.
The compiled lists of arrests – Pro Football Talk and the San Diego Union Tribune are among the outlets that keep NFL such logs on their sites - include linebacker Rolando McClain, who was arrested in April and charged with disorderly conduct not long after he signed with the Ravens. He would later retire and focus on getting his personal life in order. They did not include Ravens running back Damien Berry who was arrested two weeks ago on a failure to appear warrant stemming from a charge of driving with a suspended license. Berry has spent the past two seasons on the practice squad and injured reserve.
And obviously, the lists don’t take into account the players who have been the targets of violence, such as the Ravens’ Bernard Pierce. The second-year running back was the victim of an armed robbery and
carjacking in his hometown of Philadelphia on Sunday. Pierce’s BMW was stolen along with his cell phone and other items, but the running back and his cousin, who was with him, were unharmed.
The incident surely only added to the angst that comes when players are away from NFL facilities for extended stretches of the offseason.
Asked on the final day of the mandatory minicamp earlier this month if he worries about the stretch before training camp, Ravens coach John Harbaugh acknowledged that it was a “good question.”
“The thing that we’ve been very blessed with is that our guys have done a great job of that,” Harbaugh said. “We’re not immune to it – as team or an organization – and we’ve had our share of issues, but our share of issues have been a small share. So, I would expect our guys to continue to do a great job of just being pros and being quality people and citizens, and I’d be very surprised if anything like this was a problem.”
The Ravens take great pride in their player development department, headed by former NFL player Harry
Swayne, who constantly meets with players to make sure they are getting the support, information and advice that they need.
Ravens first-round pick Matt Elam, whose older brother, Abram, played seven seasons in the NFL, has already heard plenty of warnings.
When asked on the final day of the mandatory minicamp what he hoped to accomplish during the extended break before training camp, Elam mentioned three things: staying in shape, studying the playbook and staying out of trouble.
Elam was in Ohio yesterday with the rest of the league’s first-year class at the NFL Rookie Symposium. Part of the symposium was several former and current NFL players telling the rookies about the potential
off-the-field pitfalls that can come when transitioning into the league.
Several Ravens’ rookies spoke highly about the experience on their Twitter feeds. If they needed the message to be hammered home further, all they had to do was turn on their hotel televisions where the Hernandez situation was dominating the coverage.
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