NFL practices, no matter what time of year, erupt into slugfests from time to time. But all things considered in what used to be dubbed Camp Creampuff, there was nothing ordinary about what happened at the indoor practice facility in Owings Mills yesterday.
The Ravens players chalked it up to typical competitiveness. The new coach attributed it to the "tempo" of practice. Trevor Pryce, who has been around awhile, said it would impress him more to see guys put up their dukes in the fall against other teams.
There's no telling now, in May, whether the one-on-one fight that turned into a full-scale brawl will earn the Ravens one extra win once the season starts. But there's little doubt what conditions led to the slugfest -- and little doubt that those conditions, and the fact that they were part of the second day of the first mandatory, full-roster camp of the John Harbaugh regime, are things the Ravens can channel into the games that count.
Any observer mildly familiar with the level of contact by teams in shorts and no pads during minicamp couldn't help but notice how hard the players were hitting -- and how everybody was finishing the play, beyond the whistle. Linemen finished their blocks, tacklers hung on to ball carriers, who kept churning downfield, and other backs and receivers chased potential tacklers, who kept chasing the ball.
Those who have watched this team for a long time instantly noticed the intensity of the work -- on both sides of the ball. Recognizable from Rex Ryan's defense, not so much from the offense over the years. Blend the extra pop from both units with youngsters trying to make an impression and vets trying to show they can clear the bar Harbaugh had set, and ...
"I was just trying to finish a block, and he was trying not to let me," said offensive tackle Oniel Cousins, a third-round pick last month, speaking of his fight opponent, free-agent defensive tackle Amon Gordon. "He was trying to get loose, and he was getting upset."
"Getting upset" turned into the two wrestling on the bottom of the pile, then into throwing punches -- and then into players running over, whooping and hollering, playing peacemaker, trying to get a good look, not doing anything that might get them hurt. Much like a high-quality baseball donnybrook.
Until it lasted a few seconds too long, shouts got angrier and other teammates -- and eventually coaches, including Harbaugh -- jumped in, trying to yank players apart and keep others from joining. All in full view and earshot of reporters and photographers.
"We always practiced hard and worked hard around here," said linebacker Bart Scott, adding with a grin, "I think it's just more cameras [around]."
"I think our guys are competitive. They like football," Harbaugh said. "It's going to happen. I think as they realize the tempo of the practice is going to stay the same, it will probably happen less and less. They're a feisty bunch."
So feisty that about 20 minutes after the brouhaha had cooled and practice resumed, cornerbacks Corey Ivy and Frank Walker had to be separated during a special teams drill.
Of course, the Ravens being feisty is not new, as their body of work in the personal foul category has proven. Being feisty in May, or in practice, period, is new. So is the pace at which they work. Harbaugh repeated a few times that it wasn't so much the tempo he sets, "it's their tempo." As in, the players like it and, it seems, missed it in past years.
Still, Pryce's point is well taken.
"As far as being men and being tough and all that? We're all tough. We all know that," he said.
"Now, if we can get all this out of the way now, scrapping and being undisciplined and 80 men jumping in a pile together -- it's more like 'Camp Lazlo' than anything else," Pryce cracked, referring to the children's cartoon. "You're tough. Hooray, we're all tough. But are we a good football team?"
A big, splashy, impossible-to-ignore free-for-all is, in fact, easy to blow out of proportion, especially in May.
But seeing this team, under this coach, hitting this hard, legally or otherwise, before or after the whistle, when actual meaningful games are this far away, can't be a bad thing.
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David Steele -- Points after
Congratulations to Kobe Bryant for proving his Most Valuable Player credentials: not snitching on a teammate in front of the cops, not cursing another out in front of total strangers who filmed the incident on a digital camera, not announcing publicly that yet another was hitting on your wife, not demanding trades and retracting them minutes later, and never leaving his team between games to attend rape trial hearings. Russ, Oscar and Wilt proudly welcome you to their club.
Of course, you know that 10 years from now, MVP voters will exclaim, "I can't believe Chris Paul [or LeBron James] has never won. How can that be?"
Funny how People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is back to being the group of annoying rabble rousers that stick their noses into matters that don't concern them. A year ago, when the target was a certain corn-rowed quarterback, PETA was more popular than Hannah Montana.
If the Indianapolis 500 cars had more hydraulics, homing pigeons and saws coming out of the wheels -- like in "Speed Racer" -- chances are better that I'd watch. Not to mention a little kid and a chimp in matching clothes hiding in the trunk.
Someone's going to end up signing David Wells, completely washed up, out of shape for years and a total attention hog, and then the "We're not colluding against Barry Bonds" theory is going to look a little shaky.