When NFL lockout ends, will Ravens players be ready?

Left to their own devices when the NFL lockout took hold in March, the Ravens dispersed in every direction.

Ray Rice went home to New York to pump hands and iron. Tom Zbikowski boxed in the glaring light of Las Vegas and the faint light of Thackerville, Okla. Jameel McClain spent six weeks near Los Angeles learning a new way to train.

When labor peace finally is restored and football resumes, the Ravens will reassemble for another run at the Super Bowl. Not until then will the team, its fans or even the players know exactly what was gained or lost in the work stoppage of 2011.

One thing is certain: Players will be under more scrutiny than in any recent training camp, because this offseason is different from any other in recent history.

"It's different in terms of [not] being at the facility," Rice, a fourth-year running back, said. "But it's not different in terms of how I work. I was always a guy who came into training camp ready. I take care of my body. That's the biggest concern, I'm sure, people have. You really don't know who's working and who's not working. But I'm sure that guys having that extra time, they are working."

Time will tell which Ravens acted responsibly during this unique offseason. Team get-togethers in Arizona and Towson University were suspect at best; the three days of workouts at Towson amounted to little more than a poor man's passing camp, without a defense.

But individually, some players appear to have gone the extra mile to improve their game. McClain, a former undrafted free agent who drew a second-round tender from the Ravens at the end of the season, may have gone the farthest — literally and figuratively.

He spent six weeks in Ryan Capretta's Proactive Sport Performance program at Thousand Oaks, Calif. A starting inside linebacker in 2010, McClain participated in a variety of drills, some that included dragging truck tires behind him. He boxed, ran stadium steps and sand dunes, practiced yoga and Pilates and, yes, even did some football drills. (Capretta was a part-time strength and conditioning coach with the Ravens during their 2000 Super Bowl season.)

"Basically it just gave me the opportunity to explore a couple different things with my game — to try to work out in different ways, eat different things," McClain said. "It's been different."

McClain finished the season at 251 pounds. He's down to 243 now. And he's not through. He'll go back to Thousand Oaks in July, he said, and he's also going to attend a pass-rush camp in Atlanta under Chuck Smith, a former All-Pro defensive end with the Atlanta Falcons.

McClain has dived into his offseason regimen like never before, said his agent, Sean Howard.

"Jameel has made an emphasis more than in years past to do total body training as opposed to just football," Howard said. "With the added time, he's able to train in a different manner. I think it made quite a difference. He feels better and was able to address his [minor injuries]."

Veteran linebacker Jarret Johnson, whose drop in production last season could be traced to another run of nagging injuries, also plans to attend Smith's pass-rush camp. He was one of the few defensive players — McClain was another — who came back to Baltimore last month for the Towson workouts. The rest of the time he's been a stay-at-home dad with his young daughter, working out until noon and devoting the rest of the day to family in Niceville, Fla.

Johnson's body clock recently told him it was time to get back to serious football.

"It's nice to be home and be with family, but there comes a time, once the draft is over, that you kind of start that clock," he said. "This year there's been nothing. It's a glimpse of retirement. It's a huge loss not to have minicamp time and get into the playbook. I hear guys talk about how great it is, getting rest, but I don't know how they're resting unless they're lying around playing video games."

Depending on how long the lockout lasts, the league may be forced into an abbreviated training camp setup. It is possible for the NFL to slide the schedule back on the calendar, but a typical four- to five-week camp could be a casualty of the labor conflict.

Johnson estimates that he could be ready for a regular-season game with three weeks of camp. Rice, whose lockout routine in New Rochelle, N.Y., includes regular talks with kids, said he could be ready in as little as two.

"I think us, as a veteran group, we can get by within a week, just being honest, because we're not putting in a whole new offense, a whole new defense," Rice said. "Our thing is going to be timing. So two weeks essentially will get us where we need to be."

Said Johnson: "If they got things solved three weeks before the first game, I'd be ready to go. … I already think preseason's too long anyway. My second week of training camp is usually my best, and then you're sitting there staring at four preseason games."

Zbikowski, a safety and sometimes boxer, said two weeks of training would work for players who know what to expect.

"It'll be tough for the younger guys," he said. "You just need that period to get used to the speed of the game, when to turn it on, when to conserve. My rookie year … you almost always tweak something not being able to adjust to the speed of the game."

Having again put aside his boxing career, Zbikowski said he will focus on strengthening his legs in workouts back home near Chicago. He runs three times a week, boxes once or twice, plays basketball and does lots of conditioning work.

Getting in shape and getting in football shape are two different things, though.

"There's no substitute for hitting and contact," Rice said. "Obviously when you get hit, your body gets tired. Your body tells itself, 'I don't want to be hit anymore in training camp.' Your body tells you those kinds of things. So that's the part of fatigue that nobody's going to be ready for."