A Look Inside the NFL's 'Hardest' Conditioning Test
Remember those fitness goals you made at the start of quarantine? If you're like me and ended up on the couch instead, that's perfectly fine.
Unfortunately for Ravens players, they haven't had the same luxury.
Even an entirely virtual offseason hasn't stopped them from participating in one of the league's most difficult conditioning tests.
Former Ravens running back Justin Forsett told ESPN’s Jamison Hensley the test is "pure death."
"Players must run a total of 900 yards in six legs," Hensley wrote. "Each set consists of 25 yards out and back three times. They must finish that heat of 150 yards under a designated time – 32 seconds for the offensive and defensive linemen, 29 seconds for the tight ends and linebackers and 27 seconds for the wide receivers, running backs and defensive backs. If you go over that time in any of the six legs, you flunk the test and have to take it over."
It's become a staple this time every year when current and former players go on social media and share their thoughts on the test.
Former Ravens cornerback Fabian Washington told Hensley the test is "literally the hardest crap ever."
It's no easy feat for any player, but what makes it so difficult?
"What separates Baltimore is the change of direction. By dividing up the sprints into 25 yards – instead of 50 and 100 yards like other teams – players are cutting five times each leg," Hensley added. "You can't slack off on any of the turns. If you don't put your foot in the ground in making the cut, you lose time and typically flunk."
We're still not sure how offseason programs are going to operate when players return to team facilities. With the possibility of a shortened preseason, there's going to be even less time to prepare for game action.
That's why some pundits believe tests like the Ravens' are crucial.
"I]it’s something that the team did this year by having players place their phones on tripod so the coaches could see them do it, and to time them,” [ProFootballTalk’s Mike Florio wrote. "In an offseason with no opportunities to work directly with players, the conditioning test at least helps ensure that, when they show up for training camp, they'll be in shape."
If you want a good laugh, here's our own Ryan Mink running the conditioning test – with the rules of an offensive/defensive lineman – way back in 2012.
Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton Can Be a 'Game Changer'
Over the years, the Ravens have had a well-respected tree of coordinators go on to become NFL head coaches.
NFL Network's Peter Schrager believes Special Teams Coordinator Chris Horton needs to be included in the next batch of candidates.
Schrager said Horton can be a "game changer."
"He's young, he's hungry, and he's five seasons in with Baltimore," Schrager said. "You want to talk about mentor-prodigee? John Harbaugh, a special teams legend as a coach in Philadelphia, he gets a head coaching job. … He is grooming Horton.
"... I like Horton. I don't know if we're talking head coach right away, but I certainly think he's going to be one of those name brand special teams coaches in the league for a long time, and then who knows from there."
You typically think of offensive and defensive coordinators as head coaching candidates, but Harbaugh is a perfect example that special teams coordinators can be successful, and his success has opened eyes around the league. Former New England Patriots Head Coach Joe Judge got the head coaching gig with the New York Giants this offseason.
Horton is with a franchise that breeds special teams excellence. He's got arguably the best kicking trio in Justin Tucker, Sam Koch, and Morgan Cox, who are also coached by one of the best in the business in Special Teams Coach Randy Brown.
Horton said the next step is improving the return game this season.
"We did a lot of studying this offseason, and that's one area that we feel like we can be better in," Horton said. "Whether it's how we're coaching it [or] how our players are responding to that coaching. That's something we've felt like we could be much better [at]. I thought our coverage units were really sound outside of one game we had."
It should also be mentioned that Ravens Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman, the 2019 Assistant Coach of the Year, and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale remain as very strong head coaching candidates. Both interviewed for openings this offseason.
Earl Thomas III and Chuck Clark Ranked Among Top Safety Tandems
Marlon Humphrey and Marcus Peters have been discussed as one of the NFL's top cornerback tandems, but Pro Football Focus’ Solomon Wilcots showed some love to the Ravens' safeties.
Wilcots named Earl Thomas III and Chuck Clark among his top safety tandems.
"With Thomas and Clark as their safety tandem, the Ravens lined up in either Cover 1 or Cover 0 on 45.5% of their 979 total defensive snaps," Wilcots wrote. "Thomas aligned as the single-high safety in Cover 1, ending the regular season having allowed a passer rating of just 21.5 on throws into his primary coverage. This left Clark to rotate down into the box or the slot, where he earned the best coverage grade among safeties who played at least 100 such snaps.
"Clark … allowed 16 receptions from 19 targets in the box or the slot, but those catches only went for 94 yards. His 5.9 yards allowed per reception from such alignments ranked second among qualifying safeties, and only two of the catches he allowed went for a first down."
According to OverTheCap, the Ravens have the second-most cap space invested in the defense this season ($83.5 million). They signed Thomas to a four-year, $55 million deal last March, and inked Clark to a three-year, $15 million extension this offseason.
The Ravens have made a concerted effort to shore up the secondary, and the group allowed just 207.2 passing yards last season.
Clark took over the starting strong safety job in Week 6 after Tony Jefferson suffered a season-ending knee injury. The former sixth-round pick assumed the "green dot" communications as the defense's signal caller and never looked back.
With Patrick Mahomes and the Kansas City Chiefs as the biggest threat in the AFC, the Ravens have confidence in their safety tandem. The best part is, we haven't even seen them together for a full season.
J.K. Dobbins Works Out With Dwayne Haskins
From Ohio State to just over an hour apart down the I-95 Beltway, J.K. Dobbins and Dwayne Haskins are linking up during an unusual offseason.
A tweet showed the former Buckeye teammates working out together over the weekend.
"Now, they both find themselves entering the 2020 NFL season with large expectations," NBC Sports’ Ryan Homler wrote. "Haskins now has the keys to the Redskins offense and many are hoping to see a large jump in production and success for the expected franchise passer. As for Dobbins, the versatile running back has many believing that Baltimore's ground attack will be even more dominant than it was in 2019."
Dobbins is expected to be an integral part of the Ravens' backfield this season and is putting in the work like it.
Offensive Coordinator Greg Roman said a four-headed monster at running back is a good problem to have.
"I love good problems," Roman said. "I think I've learned over the years, if you got good problems, bring 'em this way. And I say that unabashedly. Talented, hardworking players that love football, bring 'em on. And the fact that we've got a lot of guys in our running back stable, if you will, just makes me excited to no end. . . . We'll find ways to make it work, for sure. To have that kind of backfield is a blessing."