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With new regimen, Ravens looking for position of strength

The Baltimore Sun

Ravens director of college scouting Eric DeCosta likes the sights and sounds coming out of the team's weight room these days.

"Guys are running sprints, they're coming out bent over, sucking wind and throwing up," DeCosta said. "I've been very, very encouraged from what I've seen so far. I think you're going to see a difference in this team in terms of strength and conditioning, particularly with the offensive and defensive lines. This kind of conditioning pays off in the long run. This can only help us later."

The change of head coaches has led to a change of philosophy in the weight room. There has always been the battle of free weights versus machines, and the Ravens have gone back to the more conventional approach with the free weights. The machines are just a supplement.

The new approach is definitely old school.

"It's back to power, pure powerlifting instead of resistance," Ravens linebacker Bart Scott said. "I like the philosophy, especially with the offensive line. Those guys are going to be McNasty."

There is always a transition period whenever there is change, but the Ravens have adjusted well. Forty-seven players attended the opening workout March 17, and that has been about the average daily. The emphasis is on power and explosiveness, according to new strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki, but the program is designed to develop the entire body.

And it's not just for the massive linemen. The coaching staff noticed how quickly some of the receivers went down after catches last season. Some ducked contact and others ran out of bounds.

It's time for everybody to get bigger and stronger. There is a lot of grunting going on.

"The emphasis is placed on areas of the body that are joint structured," Rogucki said. "We try to develop muscle fiber and muscle tissues around those areas to protect them. There are advantages and disadvantages to both free weights and machines, so we use both of them to get a well-rounded program, a hybrid program, so to speak."

But there is definitely more powerlifting involving lifts such as cleans, lunges, dead lifts, bench-pressing and kettle-bell tosses going on now than under the former regime. It helps that coach John Harbaugh is in on some of the weight-training sessions and spotting some of the players on various lifts.

According to Rogucki, that's all part of the selling point. When you're the new guy, you have to develop trust.

"You've got to get them to believe you're here to help them," Rogucki said. "The only way to do that is to be on the floor with them, training them, giving them different options and making them believe they are the reason we're here. Trust comes through work. You can't talk about it, you've got to put in the time with the guys."

The workout fever has caught on. Quarterback Steve McNair recently gave up vacation time with his family in Florida to participate in workouts. Coming off rotator-cuff surgery, McNair has been lifting regularly and throwing to teammates.

That didn't happen in the past, and these workouts are crucial to McNair and the Ravens if they want to have a strong season in 2008. McNair seems determined to prove he has several years of good football left in him.

"So far, the effort has been good," Rogucki said. "We've been on a good run for the first three weeks, but like I keep telling them, we're only scratching the surface. This is just the beginning."

Basically, the Ravens lift four out of five days, two days for upper body and two for the lower. The Ravens have isolated, individual running now, but once their conditioning improves, Rogucki will have competitive runs among the players.

So, there could be more players bending over in near exhaustion in the future.

"There is a lot of positive energy in the building," Scott said. "Coach is young and enthusiastic. He is visible and in your face. He seems like a player, but he has something to prove. He has to prove he can become a successful head coach.

"He is in the same situation as the players," Scott continued. "We're all in this green mile together. Was last year the end of our run? Are we too old to make another run? Do they blow this thing up after this season? We're all trying to find the right answer, but right now, I like what I see. I really like that old-school approach for the offensive and defensive linemen."

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