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Blue-Collar Men Compete


After weeks of minicamps and Organized Team Activities (OTAs), head coach John Harbaugh wanted his players to focus less on football and more about the spirit of competition.

That's why he closed out the offseason last week with a session that looked more like a strongman event than anything resembling an NFL practice.

The Ravens in attendance lined up to flip monster truck tires, pull a weighted sled for 50 yards and even carry kettle bells as far as they could.

While this might seem more like fodder for late-night programming on ESPN, Harbaugh's goal was certainly achieved. The Ravens' final day at team headquarters in Owings Mills, Md., may have consisted of such unorthodox training methods, but it also sent the players away with a sense of fellowship and accomplishment, feelings that the coach hopes will carry over to training camp next month.

"It's a fun way to build competition," said strength and conditioning coach Bob Rogucki. "The whole purpose of the event was to have fun and do something different. They didn't have to worry about formations or plays. The only thing they had to do was compete."

Rogucki and assistant John "Mother" Dunn kept a tally of all the events, as players were split into offense and defense, and then by position. All linemen went against each other, while linebackers, tight ends and running backs formed another group. Wideouts, defensive backs and quarterbacks rounded out the seedings.

"I imagine that not many of the lighter guys have ever flipped a tire," Rogucki joked.

The competition was also representative of the widespread changes that Harbaugh has implemented at the facility.

Spanning an entire section of a side wall in the weight room are two signs with the word "TEAM" loudly emblazoned in purple. Superimposed on the TEAM are "compete," "finish," "attitude," "fast," "relentless" and "physical."

Those words served as themes throughout the morning.

"The biggest thing was getting the team involved, and that's why we took the words off the boards in the weight room," Rogucki said. "Team is behind everything we do."

Rogucki explained the reasoning behind each physical activity the Ravens performed.

In a drill familiar from the NFL Combine, players lined up near the bench press to see how many times they could lift 225 pounds, which called to mind Compete.

"You have to compete for reps; do as many as you can knowing how much the next guy has," stated Rogucki.

Physical - The tire flip consisted of how fast a player could turn a giant tire down the field.

"You approach it in a physical manner. It didn't matter how good it looks, you just have to get it over."

Attitude - Simply hanging from a chin-up bar for as long as possible.

"It's an attitude. You can stay up there for two minutes, or you can stay up there for two seconds."

Relentless - A rope was attached to a weighted sled, with 200 pounds for the biggest class, 175 pounds for the middle class, and 125 for wideouts, defensive backs and quarterbacks. Players had to sit and pull the rope 50 yards.

"They had to get technique down, because they couldn't stand up when they were pulling the sled. It is tiring, but the rope requires concentration and determination."

Fast - A timed event that consisted of players pushing a wooden blocking sled 100 yards.

"You have to hit that running, because the more distance you gain to the 80-yard mark, you begin to tail off. It's almost like a wall. It doesn't matter if you go slow or fast, because when you hit that line, you're going to get tired."

Finish - Players had to carry different weights of kettle bells as far as they could. Linemen had 80 pounds, with 70 to the linebackers, tight ends and running backs, and 60 to the lightest division.

"The distance was just dependent on who wanted it more. They had to finish strong, and they did."

At the end of the day, the overall champion was special teams standout and two-time Pro Bowler Brendon Ayanbadejo, whose 102 overall points bested rookie Haruki Nakamura's 101, Tom Zbikowski's 99 and Marcus Smith's 97.

Ayanbadejo, who finished in the top three among defensive players in four of his six events, thought the unique idea was a fun way to close out camps.

"All the hard work we put in over the last couple of weeks, we got to show it off," he said. "We also built camaraderie, because every event is all-out. Our teammates were there to push us on and be our best. That's making the team better, so it was a great way to end the offseason.

"This was endurance, heart and pure effort."

The Ravens plan on making this day a tradition, placing a plaque with a team picture and names of the individual winners to commemorate the inaugural event in clear view.

"It was definitely motivated by coach Harbaugh," Dunn said. "Our big emphasis was competition in everything. That goes from each play in practice to each lift in the weight room."

In addition, Harbaugh distributed blue, button-down worker shirts with each player and coach's name stitched on the front chest, symbolizing the blue-collar mentality he wants to cultivate.

To Ayanbadejo and many of the players that proudly donned the shirts, Harbaugh's message was clear.

"We brought in the shirts because it's about work, about bringing your hard hat and pail," he said. "We're trying to build a bully here, and these represent that we still have work to do."

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