Tense practices with Eagles loom in 'hardest training camp' some Ravens have had

Justin Forsett wants to be tested by quality linebackers like Connor Barwin and Mychal Kendricks. Timmy Jernigan is looking forward to getting physical with a player in another uniform. Chris Canty thinks it will be beneficial for the Ravens defense to get "different looks" from an offense.

After nearly three weeks of training camp in often hot and sticky conditions, several Ravens players spoke excitedly about this week's joint practices with the Philadelphia Eagles. The practices, which will start Wednesday at the NovaCare Complex in Philadelphia and run through Friday, are a precursor to Saturday's night's preseason game between the teams at Lincoln Financial Field.


Joint practice sessions have become commonplace around the NFL as coaches look for ways to break up the monotony of camp, challenge their players in a different environment and against a different opponent, and gauge where their team is with the regular season drawing near.

Ravens wide receiver Steve Smith Sr., though, sees a downside in such arrangements, and pointed to the recent brawls that broke out during the Houston Texans-Washington Redskins joint practices this month.

"I think there's a lot of testosterone that's going to be on that field," Smith Sr. said. "There are going to be a lot of guys trying to prove things. You saw what happened with Houston and Washington. I think you have to have a good mindset. Guys have to understand what's going on.

"As wide receivers, we're going to respect them and they're going to respect us. Anything in between, if it's taken the wrong way, we're just going to have to fix it and we're going to have to fix it quick. And words will not be minced."

The Ravens hosted joint practices last summer with the San Francisco 49ers, and the prevailing storyline going into them — beyond the two head-coaching brothers, John and Jim Harbaugh — was the potential for fisticuffs. After all, the two teams had met in the Super Bowl 18 months earlier, and were both known for playing a physical brand of football.

However, there wasn't so much as a minor scuffle and both teams exited the practices praising the amount of work that was accomplished and the improvements that were made. John Harbaugh, who planned the practices with Eagles head coach Chip Kelly, expects nothing different this time around.

"I felt we did a great job last year with San Francisco in terms of keeping it about business, treating one another with respect," Harbaugh said. "There was no extracurricular stuff right after the play. We're counting on the Eagles to do that, and we'll be emphasizing that to our guys, as well. Really, when you practice together, you're like a team. You have to function as a team in a sense, and that's what we tried to do last year with San Francisco. We'll try to accomplish that again."

For Harbaugh, the practices will be good preparation for his team's early-season schedule — the Ravens play five of their first seven games on the road, including four on the West Coast — and another test for his players in what has been a demanding training camp.

"This is the hardest training camp that I've been a part of and I'm not just saying that," said Forsett who is entering his eighth NFL season. "It's tough, man. We're going three hours. It's physical. We're running a lot, a lot of conditioning. It's high tempo. It's a lot of wear on your body but it makes you mentally tough."

Smith Sr. joked this summer that the daily three-hour practices — many of them taking place under the hot afternoon sun — factored into his decision to retire following this, his 15th season.

"I've been in training camps where we've been an hour and 50 minutes in and the coach says, 'Start it all over from the top.' I've been in some hard training camps," he said Tuesday. "On a consistent basis, this is a very hard training camp. But you know what? I don't shy away from hard work. Is it tough? Absolutely. Will it pay off? I think it will."

And that's exactly the point. Harbaugh frequently talks about preparing his team for the grind of the season, making sure that they are peaking late in the year when the playoffs roll around.

This training camp hasn't been a whole lot different than past ones during Harbaugh's tenure. Practices have routinely gone three hours, and every minute is accounted for in some fashion. Players move quickly between drills and other segments of practice. There is little standing around as Harbaugh, knowing that he has a relatively young team, wants players getting as many practice repetitions as possible.

"We go really hard," Harbaugh said. "There's nobody that gets more reps than we do in practice."


Asked about Kelly's reputation for fast-paced practices, Canty said, "It's hard to believe anybody practices faster than us. It really is."

The collective bargaining agreement mandates that teams have a certain number of days off during training camp and regulates the number of fully-padded practices that teams can have. In addition to the periodic days off, Harbaugh has also staggered practice times throughout camp, wanting to give players additional rest in some cases and not wanting them to get too comfortable in others.

And when he sensed malaise was setting in, Harbaugh was not afraid to let his team know. During one practice, he got on coaches, defensive players and even the referees.

"He definitely pushes your buttons," Forsett said.

Added Canty: "He continues to agitate us, and agitate in a good way. He doesn't let you get comfortable because you're going to be in circumstances that aren't comfortable come Sunday in the regular season."

The latest circumstance will put the Ravens on the same practice field with their opponent Saturday night for three consecutive days. As Forsett put it, "It's football, there's no telling what will happen."

The Ravens, however, say that they'll be ready for everything.

"At the end of the day, we're the Ravens. We ain't worried about nothing," Jernigan said. "We're going to go out there and make the game physical. That's just how we play. That's the way we do things here. We don't go out and look for the fighting or anything like that but we are going to go out and play hard."

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