Joint practices open up many coaching possibilities for Ravens and 49ers

Joint practices, which the Ravens and San Francisco 49ers will participate in from Saturday through Monday at the Under Armour Performance Center, have become more popular since the new collective bargaining agreement went into effect in 2011.

With no two-a-day workouts and limits placed on the amount of time players are allowed to be on the practice field and the amount of physical contact that they can have, joint practices are being used to pick up the intensity and tempo of training camp and give organizations a better way to evaluate their own players.

But their biggest benefit, according to former NFL safety Matt Bowen, is that coaches can control exactly the situations and matchups that they put the players in.   

“In these practices, you can say, ‘OK, we’re going to do 20 red-zone plays. We’re going to do live goal line. We’re going to do third-and-long. We’re going to do inside running.’ You can pick whatever you want to do and match up their best against your best,” said Bowen who took part in joint practices as a player and has written a couple of columns about the benefits of them for National Football Post. “Then, you get your twos against their twos and then even the threes against the threes. Your threes don’t get any reps in training camp. They get none. They have to wait for somebody to get hurt before they get on the field. That’s why I think [joint practices] are better than preseason games. There are more situations you can create. You control the entire structure of practices.”

Bowen doesn’t buy the fact that these types of practices lead to more injuries. He pointed out that players, like the Dallas CowboysSean Lee, suffer season-ending injuries in offseason minicamps where there is little to no contact. He also doesn’t think that a couple of fights – as long as they don’t get out of control – are a bad thing. They can pull teams a little closer together and pick up the intensity of practices.

Overall, as long as the logistics can be worked out, Bowen doesn’t see any negatives to the arrangement.

“They are controlled. That’s the main thing,” Bowen said. “You decide the tempo as the coach, you decide the game situations, you decide what you need to work on and you decide the matchups. That’s the great thing. I think every team should do it, I really do.”

Obviously, coaches decide all those things in traditional training camp practices as well. But the benefit of doing it against another team is players are challenged more. They are taken out of their comfort zone so to speak.  

After practicing against him the past two weeks, Ravens first-year starting tackle Rick Wagner pretty much knows all of Elvis Dumervil’s pass-rushing moves by now. But he’s not going to know a whole lot about the 49ers that he has to block for three days. He’s going to have to rely on good technique and footwork, and making adjustments.

The same goes for a guy like Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith who by now, can surely anticipate how wide receiver Torrey Smith gets in and out of breaks and runs certain routes. But other than his former teammate Anquan Boldin, Smith probably doesn’t know a whole lot about the other 49ers’ receivers. He’s going to have to remain disciplined and focused.

“It’s not the same guy you’ve been competing against for the past week or two. It’s a different guy and that always brings out the best in players,” said ESPN analyst and former NFL head coach Herman Edwards. “You’re limited in what you can do in practice anymore and you don’t want to bang up each other. But with this, you can kind of say, ‘OK, this team is pretty good at this, they have a lot of good linebackers, how is our offensive line going to stand up to these guys?’”

Not only do the practices help you evaluate your own players, Edwards said it is a good opportunity to get a good look at the other team. Edwards was the head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs and they had joint practices with the Minnesota Vikings. Chiefs’ officials came away from the workouts impressed by a young quarterback named Tyler Thigpen, who the Vikings had taken in the seventh round out of Coastal Carolina in 2007.

When Thigpen was let go by the Vikings, the Chiefs signed him to serve as their backup quarterback. Thigpen played parts of three seasons for the Chiefs and started 11 games in 2008.

The Ravens aren’t necessarily in the market for a backup quarterback, but they are always looking to improve the back end of their roster. And the 49ers have one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the NFL.

So the practices should not only benefit the Ravens’ players but their scouts as well.  


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