The Ravens are moving out west for the week, as the coaching staff and four players will set up shop in Phoenix for this year's Pro Bowl.
John Harbaugh and his staff, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, right guard Marshal Yanda and running back Justin Forsett will all represent the Ravens in the NFL's annual all-star game.
The teams will be selected by Hall of Fame captains Cris Carter and Michael Irvin during Wednesday night's draft. The league switched to the draft format last season, instead of the traditional AFC vs. NFC lineups.
The NFL also decided to move the game from its traditional Hawaiian location; this is just the third time in the last 34 years that the game is played somewhere other than Honolulu.
The Pro Bowlers will start hitting the practice field Thursday morning. Here are the details of the week, along with some of the storylines to follow:
NOTE: The Ravens will also have a coverage team in Phoenix during the week of practice, providing daily written and video content leading up to the game.
Pro Bowl DraftWednesday, Jan. 21, 8 p.m.
Pro Bowl GameSunday, Jan. 25, 8 p.m.
Who is the first Raven taken off the board?Part of the fun in having teams selected by a pair of Hall of Fame captains is that the draft creates a bit of an old-school playground mentality where nobody wants to be the last player taken. Terrell Suggs chided captain Deion Sanders last season for waiting until the later rounds to take him, and we'll see where the Ravens come off the board this time. The good news for Yanda is that he won't have to wait at all because the guards are automatically assigned to teams without going through the draft.
How intense is the game?A regular criticism of the Pro Bowl is that the players don't take the game seriously, and that the competitiveness pales in comparison to actual games. The NFL has made efforts to strengthen the competition in recent years, even discussing the possibility of cancelling the contest if the quality of play didn't improve. The game was played at a higher level last year, and Harbaugh pointed out that the difference in money for the winning team and losing team could provide some players a little extra motivation. "That's a big motivator for anybody," he said. "I'm going to have a good halftime speech ready. I'm going to motivate them."
How does the Ravens coaching staff treat the week of practice?Harbaugh is known for running tough practices in Baltimore, but don't expect that this week. Instead of the long, hot practices that have become synonymous with Harbaugh's training camps, the players on his team won't have to endure that kind of atmosphere. "They won't be very long, I promise you," Harbaugh said. The more interesting point to watch will be to see how Harbaugh interacts with some of the great players from around the league. Coaches and players can build friendships that start during Pro Bowl week – Harbaugh first got to known wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. at the Pro Bowl – and more relationships like that could begin.
Any Raven vs. Raven Matchups?Another interesting aspect of splitting up the teams in a draft, instead of the AFC-NFC format, is that teammates could end up facing off with each other. Mosley could meet Forsett in the hole for a big hit. Dumervil could try to work through Yanda on a pass rush. Star players usually take it easy on each other in practice during the season, but now they might want to get the better of the other so they have trash-talking privileges in the locker room next year.
Ravens making their first visitYanda has become a regular visitor to the Pro Bowl, and Dumervil is make his fourth trip in his four-year career. Forsett and Mosley, however, are newbies. Mosley didn't even realize that rookies could make the Pro Bowl until finding out he was selected. They'll be interacting and competing with some of the best players in the game, and they'll naturally want to show they're deserving of their spots.
Who will call the offense?The offensive coaching staff has gone through some big changes since the Ravens agreed to coach the Pro Bowl. Gary Kubiak is now the head coach in Denver building his own staff, which includes former Ravens Quarterbacks Coach Rick Dennison and Tight Ends Coach Brian Pariani. But before Dennison and Pariani join Kubiak in Denver, they will enjoy one final week with the Ravens staff at the Pro Bowl. "They've earned this trip out here. They're part of our family this week," Harbaugh said. Dennison will call the offense, along with the help of Senior Offensive Assistant Craig Ver Steeg.
Harbaugh working around the clock
Coaching the NFL's all-stars is hardly the only, or the most important, task of the week for Harbaugh. After the Broncos lured Gary Kubiak to Denver as their new head coach, Harbaugh just wrapped up a search for a new offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach. Harbaugh still has some spots open on his staff, including tight ends and secondary coaches, and he could use the down time to work the phone lines to find replacements.