Two days after Ravens players announced that they will not be participating in this year's voluntary in-person workouts, Head Coach John Harbaugh was asked for his outlook on the issue.
More than a dozen teams' players, including those of AFC North rivals Pittsburgh and Cleveland, have announced the same, or similar, stances as the league still grapples with its second offseason amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phase 1 of the offseason plan begins around the NFL today, with all meetings being held virtually and no on-field work through May 16. Players are permitted, however, to work out in the weight room under the direction of the team's strength and conditioning coaches. Last year, that work was done virtually.
"We've got guys in the building today. We have non-rehab guys here," Harbaugh said. "The guys make their choices and the guys who are here, we're coaching them up.
"We're coaches. We coach. That's what we're preparing to do. We love our players, we love to teach, work together with any player and every player that chooses to be here. We'll help in every way we can – individually, collectively, as a team – to help build their game and achieve their goals and dreams as football players."
Phase 2, which is scheduled for May 17-21, would include on-field drills without contact and limiting the amount of time spent on the field per day. In Phase 3, which can be between May 24-June 18, teams may conduct 10 days of Organized Team Activities with players on the field for no more than two hours per day.
Mandatory minicamps will also happen during Phase 3. Judging by the players' statement, that seems to be the time when they plan to return to the Under Armour Performance Center.
Of course, coaches always would prefer for players to be in the building working with them. That's why they have this job. They feel that players can improve the most – to both help the team and themselves – by being with their coaches.
"It's football practice. It's a team game. It's the ultimate team game," Harbaugh said. "Since I've been in the league, in terms of the controversy about the whole thing, it's been voluntary. We coach every guy that wants to be here. I'm looking forward to it, and when they get here, we'll be coaching them."
In their statement via the NFL Players Association, Ravens players did not specifically cite COVID-19 as the reason they are not participating in voluntary in-person workouts this year.
The Ravens held their pre-draft presser in the Ravens' Under Armour Performance Center auditorium with General Manager Eric DeCosta next to Harbaugh and Director of Player Personnel Joe Hortiz. Media members were still reporting virtually. After drafting virtually last year, DeCosta said the Ravens will return to their "normal" in-person format this year, with more limited access to the draft room. DeCosta, Harbaugh and Hortiz have all been fully vaccinated.
On Monday, DeCosta was asked about how the team is handling player vaccinations.
"A vaccination is a very personal thing. I'm not going to get into the politics of that," DeCosta said. "For me, it was the right thing to do. Our players have the right to make a decision that they feel is best for them. There is a benefit to the club having as many people vaccinated as possible. We believe it's the best thing for our players and organization. But, again, we support our players and their right to choose what they think is best for themselves and we'll pivot accordingly."