As he begins his sixth training camp as coach of the Ravens, John Harbaugh sees change everywhere around the Under Armour Performance Center. There are a couple of new members of his coaching staff, a revamped roster and a shiny new trophy at the team facility.
Harbaugh's focus, however, is not on what happened last year or even during an offseason where the Ravens rebuilt their defense and signed their quarterback to the biggest contract the organization has ever given out. It's not even on the Denver Broncos, the Ravens' opponent in their regular-season opener Sept. 5. Harbaugh isn't looking past Thursday's first full-squad practice of training camp.
In between workouts Monday for quarterbacks, rookies and players coming off injuries, Harbaugh sat down with The Sun and addressed a number of issues, including life without long-time standouts Ray Lewis and Ed Reed, the challenge of trying to repeat and his relationship with his brother following Super Bowl XLVII.
What excites you most about this year's team?
I like how competitive our camp is going to be. Every coach likes competition. The offense vs. defense competition is going to be strong — the O- and D-lines. There is competition within every position and there will also be competition against their counterpart on the other side of the ball. Competition is what brings out your best.
Around the building, have you sensed how excited everybody is to get training camp started?
I think everyone is really champing at the bit to start. I think everybody is looking forward to it. We have a unique challenge. We have the most unique challenge in football. There's only one Super Bowl champion who has an opportunity to build from that, so to speak, for that next year. That's a unique honor that was earned by last year's team that this year's team gets to embark upon and everybody is excited about it.
Do you feel pretty good at where your team is at health-wise coming into training camp?
We're in good position that way. I think the main thing is we'd like to try and avoid setbacks with the guys that are coming off a few things. Then, you just do your best to stay healthy. The biggest thing about staying healthy in camp, besides the fluke injuries, is that guys come back in great shape. And it appears at this point that we're doing that. That's a good thing.
What does it do for your message when a team leader like Terrell Suggs reports in really good shape?
Terrell Suggs, obviously, has been and will be more of a leader than he has ever been before. He might be the hungriest player at the same time. That's what a leader does and that's what we expect from all of our players.
Do you feel good about where Haloti Ngata is at?
Yeah, Haloti came in in great shape. He's looking great. He blew away the conditioning test. He's ready to go.
I know you speak regularly with owner Steve Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and you're very much a part of formulating the plan for this organization. But was there a time this offseason when you were seemingly losing key guys every day, where you said, 'What's going on here?'
Nope, not for one second. As you said, I was a part of it and part of the decision-making process on that. I knew exactly what we were doing. The only thing I was surprised about was how unclear it kind of seemed to everybody else what we were doing.
Is it weird at all not to have Ray Lewis and Ed Reed around because they've been such fixtures in this building over the years?
Yeah, [but] I understand it. Those guys mean so much to the organization, to the city, to the fan base, to all of us. That's perfectly understandable and natural. That's the way it should be. But I think it has less impact on us as a football team than it does to those other things.
You just said it. The only reason it's hard because people associated with the team can't block it out. I would say to the media, 'Just get over it.' Life moves quickly. I think all of us are capable of doing more than one thing at once. It's not like we have to forget the Super Bowl in order to move onto the next season. We're capable of being proud of the accomplishment and moving on to the next thing. It's not an either/or proposition. It seems like a pretty simple concept.
So there are no plans to address players about the challenge of repeating and avoiding the Super Bowl hangover?
It's not a relevant point and it won't be until the week of the Super Bowl if we're in the game. Until that time, it's a pointless conversation because we're not playing the Super Bowl. We're playing Tampa Bay in the preseason opener. So you could make it an issue if you want, but it's not and just because [the media] makes it an issue doesn't mean we need to. We didn't figure this out because we won a Super Bowl, how we're going to approach it. That's how we've approached it all along.
What was the best part of celebrating the Super Bowl?
The best part is sharing it with your family. That's the No. 1 thing. I shared it with my wife, my daughter, Mom, Dad. That is all the best part. But there are a lot of other great things, too.
In a recent story on the team website, you used the term 'dynasty.' Is that something you thought this team was capable of when you saw all the pieces in place?
I talked about it publicly the very first week when I got the job. … I talked about it in 2009, I think right after the season, somewhere in there. It hasn't changed. It's the same objective. Why wouldn't you be thinking that way when you're an organization like this one?
How excited were you when you got the call that you guys had agreed to the long-term deal with quarterback Joe Flacco?
I was not surprised at all. I knew it was going to get done. I'm really happy for Joe and happy for the organization. It was the result of success. That whole thing was the result of Joe's success, the team's success, the organization, the whole thing. It was good for everybody.
Different analysts have questioned why you haven't signed a veteran wide receiver. Do you think you have enough talent there where you don't need to add a veteran?
I would say that I like [the wide receiver group] a lot. I think we have more than enough talent right here to be successful. I expect those guys to play extremely well.
You still have some salary cap space. Are there areas that you are still targeting to improve?
We're always looking for the best players but we don't see any move out there now that is going to make us better. If we did, we would do it. If we do something, it will be because the right player is there that fits us. But that move is not imminent right now.
Some of the guys that you lost this offseason had been some of the more vocal players. That prompted several outlets, including our paper, to talk about how this has become more your team than ever before. Is that off base and was there any effort made to get guys out of here that have been labeled malcontents in the past?
As far as the 'my team' thing, I don't know, I've been the head coach since '08. That hasn't changed. Everybody has a role and my role hasn't changed. Roles are roles so I don't even know what that means. As far as the other part of that, there are a lot of personalities that go into the chemistry of a team. It goes back to the team, the team, the team. Everything we do is going to be what's best for the team, to give us the best chance to be the best team that we can possibly be. That's why those moves were made — period, end of story. There's nothing more to it. Whatever you want to make of that, you're free to make of it. But in the end, it all boils down to what gives us the chance to be the best team we can possibly be. And if you think it's anything more to it, you're off base.
You spent extensive time with your brother Jim — the coach of the San Francisco 49ers — at the owners meetings in late March. Was it tough for you after the Super Bowl to enjoy the accomplishment knowing how much he was hurting?
I'm sure I took into account the other coach's feelings more than I normally would have. I would have taken them into account probably zero percent if it wasn't my brother. So, there was a percentage that I took that into account. But by the same token, he's a great guy, he's a tough guy. They accomplished a lot. I was proud of him and he was proud of me. The thing about the owners meetings when we finally got there, there was nobody out there on the pool slide telling us what we couldn't do. So we set records for how many kids we could stack going down the slide. Everybody had a good time watching us, too, I think. It was fun. We had all the kids doing it.
Was that the first time you guys communicated after the Super Bowl?
We talked on the phone a couple of times, but that was the first time we were together and we had our usual blast. We took over this one little pool back there in the area. It was kind of a quiet pool and Jim came rolling in and he didn't have a suit so I gave him my suit. Then, I wanted to go in so I put his jeans on. That's all he had. We had this little rocket/missile water thing and we were playing tag with that thing. We basically just drove everybody out of the pool into their lawn chair on the side.