Setting up camp

The Baltimore Sun

PALM BEACH, FLA. -- When the players report to training camp this year, they will go from the self-proclaimed Club Billick to Camp Harbaugh.

Or will it be Camp Hardball?

Unlike the more laid-back summer regimen instituted for years by former coach Brian Billick, John Harbaugh's training camp will be stricter and more physical.

Instead of having the freedom to go home at night, players will be required to stay with teammates at the team hotel, where there will be bed checks. And instead of contact practices once every other day, players will suit up in full pads every morning.

"Football is a contact sport," Harbaugh said at the NFL annual meetings, which ended yesterday. "You've got to practice blocking and tackling, finishing blocks. You best do that with pads."

This change of styles doesn't mean Harbaugh is going to be the biggest disciplinarian in the NFL or run the roughest training camp in the league.

Like Billick, Harbaugh wants to be smart with his players. There will be times when the older players - whom Harbaugh calls the "30-and-over club" - will have modified training schedules to save the wear and tear on their bodies.

Unlike Billick, Harbaugh plans to have some extended, hard-hitting scrimmages to get players more acclimated to game situations.

But Harbaugh's camp won't be the most physical in the NFL. It'll just resemble what many other teams do.

"I don't know if we're going to have a tougher camp per se," Harbaugh said. "We need to practice all the things that are going to come up in a game. You can't manufacture situations for every player in the preseason. We want to get [young cornerback] David Pittman in that situation where he's got to make that play on third-and-five, get a guy down and know where the sticks are at."

The other substantial change will come off the field.

Under Billick, the Ravens were one of the few teams to allow veteran players to go home at night after the first few days of camp. Billick thought they rested better there than at the team hotel.

Under Harbaugh, players will have to stay at the hotel, a change the new coach hopes will build camaraderie.

"I don't see any reason for guys to be driving home at night during training camp," Harbaugh said. "It's late at night and then they have to be back first thing in the morning. Maybe it's even a safety issue, but that's what training camp is, everybody there together. It's how you do training camp."

The Ravens have already started their preparations for training camp, which begins at the end of July. The team recently kicked off an offseason workout program, which was attended by 47 players on the first day.

Harbaugh has been in the weight room with his players, even spotting them at times.

"I think there's momentum being generated in the offseason program; that's for sure," Harbaugh said. "The weights are clanging. The chalk is flying. The music is blasting. Guys are laughing."

One of the players working hard in the program is quarterback Steve McNair.

Coming off rotator-cuff surgery, McNair is doing almost all of his weightlifting routine and he is throwing to teammates.

"He's doing well," Harbaugh said. "He's getting healthy. He wasn't himself [last year] because of the injuries. Everybody attributes that to age. Is it a result of age or did he just have injury issues? We're going to find out."

While McNair has been attending the program, linebacker Ray Lewis has not yet reported to the voluntary workouts.

Harbaugh has not met with Lewis, but he has talked to him on the phone.

"He's great. He's excited," Harbaugh said. "We get each other fired up. I start talking, he starts talking and the next thing, we're screaming."

So when does Harbaugh want Lewis to show up at team headquarters?

"For a guy in his situation, he's working the contract stuff out with Ozzie [Newsome, general manager]," Harbaugh said of Lewis, who is entering the final year of his contract. "That's going to play itself out. We'll see. It's between him and Ozzie right now. I would love for him to be in there. He's got to work some things out."

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