For the first time since following his team here from Cleveland in 1996, Ravens strength and conditioning coach Jerry Simmons feels good about the off-season.
The Ravens concluded their 10-week, off-season conditioning program on Tuesday, when players were tested for strength and endurance.
The next step of preparation for the 1998 season begins June 1. Players report that day for physicals, before beginning a two-week minicamp, which precedes the four-week training camp that opens at Western Maryland College on July 12.
"I know we still have to block and tackle. We still have to win games. I just hope the attitude and work habits I've seen will carry over during the season, and they will," Simmons said.
"The test numbers look great, but I don't even have to look at those numbers to see the progress we've made. These guys have paid a nice price. I can honestly look in the mirror and say we've had a very good off-season."
The numbers that especially pleased Simmons had to do with attendance. Since the program opened March 9, about 45 players worked out at least four times a week at the team's new, $500,000 training facility in Owings Mills.
"This facility has helped us make some great strides. We now have the ability to train guys in a good training environment," Simmons said.
"Our first year [in Baltimore], we had maybe 25 guys here [in the off-season]. Last year up until May, we only had 33 guys on our roster, and maybe 28 of them were in here training. This year, we always had between 45 and 49 guys working here."
Unlike his first two off-seasons in Baltimore, Simmons said a sizable number of players has approached him about using the facility after next month's minicamp.
Traditionally, players and coaches pretty much disappear around that time, opting to enjoy their final vacations before facing the grind of training camp and two-a-day practices.
"It looks I'm going to be giving up some vacation time to open this place up. That's a good sign," Simmons said.
The Ravens will be looking for more encouraging signs at next month's minicamp regarding the health of a handful of players coming back from injuries.
Among the wounded, safeties Stevon Moore and Rondell Jones and offensive linemen Sale Isaia and Jeff Mitchell will be among the more closely watched.
Moore is trying to come back from dual knee surgery. Last December, he had fractures repaired in each knee. Jones had the same surgery performed on his right knee. Both players battled bad knees throughout the 1997 season.
Moore has just started to run in the past week, during which he also performed some backpedaling and change-of-direction drills. Several weeks ago, a flare-up of tendinitis set him back.
"Controlled participation at minicamp will be the key for Stevon. The idea is to have him ready for Pittsburgh [the regular-season opener]," Ravens trainer Bill Tessendorf said.
"We need to be smart with Stevon and Rondell. Rondell hasn't had the opportunity to do any skill work yet. We think they'll both be ready for training camp."
The same goes for Isaia and Mitchell, who each suffered season-ending knee injuries during the first week of last year's training camp. The Ravens are counting on them to add depth to the offensive line. They are hoping a battle between Isaia and veteran Ben Cavil will yield a bona fide starter at left guard.
Also, defensive end Michael McCrary's recovery is coming along slower than expected. McCrary, who had arthroscopic knee surgery five months ago, has regained much of the strength in his legs. Knee soreness forced him to stop lifting leg weights during the regular season.
Earlier in the spring, McCrary irritated the knee while jumping rope. Tessendorf said he expects McCrary to be ready for minicamp and training camp.
Pub Date: 5/21/98