The week of Pro Bowl practice got underway on a chilly Arizona morning at Luke Air Force Base.
The two teams practiced in front of military personnel and their families, and the backdrop included fighter planes flying above the field and over the nearby mountains.
"It's incredible," Ravens Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "We have these $78 million fighter jets taking off over the practice field, wonderful military people here having fun with the players, and the players did a great job with all of it."
The practice took place in a picturesque atmosphere, but the cool temperatures in the mid-50s caught the teams off guard. Heavy winds lasted all morning and gusts made it tough for the all-star quarterbacks to throw at times.
Here were some of the highlights from the first practice session:
- Players were surprised when they stepped off the bus to a stiff wind and heavy dust in the air. Most were wearing just shorts and T-shirts, and could have used more layers for the early practice. Green Bay Packers guard Josh Sitton summed it up when he took a few steps off the bus, clapped his hands and said, "Alright, let's go ahead and wrap this up."
- The practice was a light affair, resembling more of a walk-through than the normal Harbaugh practice routines. Players didn't wear helmets or pads, and there were no contact drills between the two sides. The priority of practice is to make sure that the players learn the basic system and calls for the game. Neither team will break out an elaborate game plan, but they still have to make sure they're on the same page.
- Harbaugh spent the session working his way through the practice field mingling with players. He left most of the details of practice to his assistant coaching staff and used the time to interact and chat with players from across the league. He even joked back and forth with Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey.
- Unlike practices in training camp or the regular season where coaches often raise the voice volume to get across their point, there was none of that Wednesday. There were more laughs and smiles from the coaching staff, and they even used "please" and "thank you" to lead the players through drills.
- Rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley looks right at home in the middle of the defense surrounded by all-stars. Mosley is running with the starting lineup and he's calling out the plays for the rest of the defense. Other Pro Bowlers followed his lead because of his familiarity with the defense, and Eagles linebacker Connor Barwin shouted out at one point during practice, "Lead us through the drills C.J.!"
- Texans defensive end J.J. Watt was a fan favorite, and he entertained the crowd by catching some impressive one-handed passes in between drills. He plays defense, and he looks like he has better hands than some wide receivers in the league.
- How's this for a passing game: Andrew Luck at quarterback, with A.J. Green, Jordy Nelson and T.Y. Hilton at wide receiver. That's scary talent.
- At the end of practice, Harbaugh carried on his tradition from Baltimore where he invites a player to come in front of the group to speak to the team. He calls the time "wise words," and he gave Watt the honor of being the first to speak Wednesday.