"A couple days into it, even though we technically should be more tired, more fatigued, just because we’ve been practicing, I think we’ll start to feel better," Joe Flacco said about training camp. (Kevin Richardson)
There has been a conversation and the groundwork is being laid to reduce the number of plays for veteran receiver Steve Smith during the 2015 season, but it may never happen.
The Ravens have to find and develop a pool of receivers to relieve Smith, a 15-year veteran, and Smith also has to sign off. The first issue might be more difficult than the second. After only two days of training camp, the Ravens still need to find another big play and more consistent receivers.
Smith remains the lone proven threat.
"That's something we have discussed," said Smith when asked if he had spoken to head coach John Harbaugh about reducing his number of plays. "But as you see what is going on now, I think it's going to be hard for both of us to do that."
"Because we're both competitors and we both want to win," said Smith, with a smile.
According to Pro Football Focus, Smith was on the field for 834 plays last season with 79 receptions for 1,065 yards and six touchdowns. He had 41 catches for 675 yards in the first eight regular season games compared to only 38 for 390 yards in the last eight.
Of course, Smith would never admit that he wore down, but that's not the point. At age 36, he would be fresher in the closing months of the season and in the playoffs if he didn't play as much. The Ravens worked a similar plan last season with veteran outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Terrell Suggs, and it paid off.
"Steve and I have talked about how many reps he's going to play," said Harbaugh. "We'll probably know by the end of preseason how we feel about that, but sometimes you get to a game and you kind of need a guy in the end to make a play. I'm really hoping that we have enough guys who we like so we can roll receivers through there and play all those guys."
"I think we're deep, and if we turn out to be deep, like we hope we are, then all of those guys will play," said Harbaugh.
Right now, Smith is still so much better than any receiver on the roster. Besides the great hands, his ability to adjust to the ball in midflight might be his biggest asset.
His work ethic is as strong as ever. Even after his turn in individual drills, he is always in the back stretching or working on something. When the Ravens work on special teams, Smith is on the sidelines either running or plodding routes with receivers coach Bobby Engram.
Sometimes, though, he is his own worst enemy because he can't slow himself down. But apparently the Ravens noticed a drop-off in the second half, which prompted the meeting with Harbaugh.
"He [Steve] kind of dropped off after six or seven games," said former Ravens star receiver Derrick Mason. "I don't know if it was age because his body was beat up from all those years or if he was struggling because of injury, but he wasn't the same. I think John has to determine how much better they will be late in the season if they can cut down on his plays earlier in the year."
"For that to happen, they have to have players to spell Steve and I'm not sure the Ravens have them," said Mason.
The Ravens have a lot of candidates, none of which are household names. They have the speedy rookie and first-round pick in Breshad Perriman, who missed Friday's practice with a bruised knee. He had problems holding onto the ball while at Central Florida.
They have a bunch of possession types in Kamar Aiken, who has been running with the first team, and Marlon Brown as well as Michael Campanaro. Jeremy Butler is also a candidate, but it could be a while before any one of them claim the No. 2 position.
And even when they do, Smith won't go lightly. All great receivers have an attitude and they don't come off the field easily, especially in crunch time. Plus, Smith has other intangibles. He is a ferocious run blocker and his tough guy mentality rubs off on his teammates.
When asked recently which teammate would he not like to face in a fight, Ravens guard Marshal Yanda said: "Probably Steve Smith. You would think you would probably hit that guy 100 times and he would just keep on coming."
Getting Smith to rest won't be easy.
"No. 1 receivers don't come off the field," said Mason. "It's the attitude, we all have that attitude. Also, it's difficult for a coach to tell a veteran receiver to come off the field and rest. Playmakers like Steve want to be on the field all the time, especially at the end of the half and in the fourth period."
"I think John has probably spoken with him and Steve will buy into it," said Mason. "He has to be comfortable in believing that they aren't trying to replace me, but trying to help me and it's in the best interest of the team."