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Joint Ravens-49ers practices provide storylines, benefits to both sides

For those lucky enough to be in attendance for the Ravens-San Francisco 49ers joint practices in August, it’s easy to see the benefits of such an arrangement.

Even during practices, the subplots will be endless and certainly go beyond the presence of two head-coaching brothers on the same field.

How comfortable will the 49ers be practicing at a facility where there are ever-present reminders of their 34-31 loss to the Ravens in Super Bowl XLVII? Will there be bad blood between two teams that pride themselves on playing a physical style? What sort of interaction will there be between John and Jim Harbaugh and their respective staffs?

And then you get to the individual matchups -- how about Jimmy Smith going against 49ers receiver Michael Crabtree after the two battled in the much-debated final play in the Ravens’ Super Bowl goal-line stand? How about Lardarius Webb and Anquan Boldin reprising the matchup that was commonplace in Ravens practices for several seasons? Speaking of bad blood, will 49ers tackle Anthony Davis and Ravens linebacker Terrell Suggs renew their hostilities?

If you recall, Davis called Suggs a “[expletive] loser” among other things after he took offense to comments the Ravens linebacker made on a San Francisco-based radio show.

“It’s just going to be fantastic,” John Harbaugh said Friday when asked about the joint practices. “I just can’t wait to do it.”

I’m not sure how the players feel about this, and I don’t want to speak for the rest of the media, but I’m sure there are plenty of us that concur. Training camp can get a little monotonous after a while, and the joint practices between two elite organizations will certainly add some excitement and energy.

But beyond all that, the practices should benefit both teams as they prepare for a season amid high expectations. There is a reason that more and more coaches are starting to arrange joint practices. I got some e-mails and tweets questioning the purpose of doing this.

For the 49ers, it’s easy to see why they wouldn’t want to fly all the way to the East Coast to play one meaningless preseason game. Four days of practice following the game will make the trip more beneficial.

For both teams, the arrangement ups the ante a little bit and should raise the intensity level of everyone involved. Being around more good players can only help. I’m sure there’s plenty that Joe Flacco and Tyrod Taylor could learn from watching Colin Kaepernick for four straight days, and vice versa. The same can be said for Arthur Brown being able to see how Patrick Willis goes about training camp practices.  

Plus, a couple weeks into training camp, players are always saying how they are tired of hitting each other, and they want to take on somebody in a different uniform. This will give them that opportunity.

After hearing of these plans, I immediately thought back to John Harbaugh’s comments last month when he said that he wanted this training camp to be more physical than last year. Harbaugh’s reason was that the Ravens have a lot of young players and they need the reps. With the identities of both of these teams, I think you’ll get plenty of physicality in these joint practices.    

I think you’ll also get an increase in the competition level, which in turn, will help the coaches in the evaluation process as they prepare to make key roster decisions.

As long as things stay under control and there aren’t a rash of significant injuries -- which are unavoidable in standard training camp practices -- the arrangement could be win-win for both teams.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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