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Ravens’ John Harbaugh: Another offseason of virtual OTAs would be ‘colossal mistake’

Count John Harbaugh as one person who isn’t entirely on board with embracing the NFL’s new normal that was forced by the coronavirus pandemic.

During a virtual NFL scouting combine news conference Tuesday, the Ravens coach said a decision to conduct organized training activities remotely for a second straight offseason would be a “colossal mistake.”

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“How many young quarterbacks do we have in the National Football League right now? And how many are going to be coming into the league in the next three or four years? And if you think you can just go to training camp and develop as a quarterback, that’s fantasy land,” Harbaugh said. “Those quarterbacks are not going to be able to line up and play successfully and have any chance against the defenses they’re going to be playing against and moving the ball.

“That can be really ugly football, I promise you. You see when quarterbacks go out there that aren’t prepared or just aren’t good enough, they’re not ready, how that looks in games. It’d be a lot more of those games if you put those young quarterbacks out there without the proper preparation. And that goes for the wide receivers and tight ends and all those guys. And the offensive line, no matter what J.C. Tretter says.”

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Tretter, a center for the Cleveland Browns and the NFL Players Association president, is calling for the significant reductions in offseason work forced by the pandemic to continue in future years.

“The COVID CBA forced significant changes, and it has shown us another way players and teams can successfully prepare for and play in the NFL,” Tretter wrote on the union website in December 2020. “This year has brought less time at practice than ever before. We had no offseason practices, fewer training camp practices and no preseason games. While some feared that those changes would lead to a sloppy 2020 NFL season, our collective level of play across the league has actually never been higher.”

Despite the virtual offseason and a condensed training camp with no preseason games, 12,692 points were scored in the 2020 season, the most in NFL history.

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said that many of the changes caused by the pandemic will remain, such as virtual meetings.

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“Our experience with the offseason training and doing that virtually, I think our clubs got comfortable with a lot of that,” Goodell said in his annual state of the league news conference ahead of the Super Bowl. “And I think you’ll see more of that, which I think will be productive.”

According to the NFL Network, NLFPA executive director DeMaurice Smith told agents that OTAs and minicamp will likely be virtual again and that “we’re planning for an offseason that looks a lot like [the 2020] offseason.” The pandemic-related changes to the 2020 offseason were collectively bargained between the NFL and NFLPA and the expectation is that it will happen again in 2021, according to the report.

While Harbaugh is opposed to a purely virtual offseason, he cited some benefits to the remote approach. With the NFL scouting combine being scrapped this year, teams have had more time to conduct interviews with draft prospects. “Those combine interviews are just torturous. I think this would be a better way to do it,” he said.

And Harbaugh said he hadn’t heard anything definitive about fans being allowed to return to M&T Bank Stadium in the fall but added, “I’ll go on the record saying it absolutely is going to happen. ... That’s a no-brainer to me,” citing the increased access to vaccines throughout the state.

Hours after Harbaugh’s comments, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that outdoor sporting venues will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity as part of the lifting of several restrictions.

The Ravens hosted just one game with fans in the 2020 season, a 28-24 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Nov. 2.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

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