The Ravens pride themselves on their work ethic and that has not changed during this year's unique offseason.
All offseason training was done virtually due to the coronavirus pandemic, so Head Strength & Conditioning Coach Steve Saunders had not seen most players in person in months when they reported to training camp. Saunders loved what he saw. Collectively, the Ravens reported to camp in great shape and Saunders believes that will pay dividends.
"They've done the workouts, they showed up here ready to work," Saunders said during a videoconference. "There's not a ramp up period for us. We're going now as hard as they would getting ready for the season. We're ready to go. We've got 40 days until the Cleveland Browns and our guys are going to be spitting fire."
Thought the offseason strength and conditioning program had to go virtual, Saunders said he feels like they're pickup up where they normally would. Players had a very detailed workout regiment to do at home, in which they were broken into small groups with virtual coaching, and had equipment sent all over the country to their homes. Each player was given a tripod to record their workouts so they could still get individual coaching.
It has been speculated that players will be more susceptible to soft tissue injuries this season because their bodies won't be as prepared for contact and game action. Following the NFL lockout that lasted from March 12 to July 25 in 2011, injuries did increase over the previous season. However, Saunders believes players are better prepared to cope.
"Soft tissue injuries are always a concern," Saunders said. "During that time, even with gyms, there was a longer time where guys didn't run, they didn't lift, they didn't have somebody with them to prepare. I think the soft tissues injuries come from your body not being ready for those activities. Knock on wood, you never know what can happen. Certainly, I think we're positioned well to avoid those things. But we still have a long road until the first game."
Deep Backfield Won't Change Mark Ingram II's Approach
Mark Ingram II is a three-time Pro Bowler coming off his third 1,000-yard season. However, since the Ravens drafted J.K. Dobbins in the second round, there has been frequent discussion about how the carries will be divided among the running backs. Plenty of talent is vying for touches in a backfield that also includes Gus Edwards and Justice Hill, not to mention quarterback Lamar Jackson, who set a single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback last year.
Ingram is taking the same approach that has made him successful and plans to make every carry count.
"The coaches will decide how to rotate us and how to play us all," said Ingram, who ran for 1,018 yards for 10 touchdowns last year, averaging 5.0 yards per rush on 202 carries.
"We all have special talents, special abilities. All I do is work my butt off. I compete my butt off no matter where I'm at, no matter who's in my running back room. That's just the bottom line. I try to be the best player I can be, bring my best foot to the table every time I step on the field."
Ingram is used to being part of a deep running back rotation. During his eight seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Ingram shared work with other talented backs that included Alvin Kamara, Darren Sproles and Pierre Thomas. Baltimore's running back depth should help keep Ingram fresh, and he is fully recovered from the calf injury he suffered late last season.
"The rehab of my calf, at the beginning of the year that was my first goal making sure I got that back to full strength," Ingram said.
D.J. Fluker's Size and Attitude Are Impressive
New Ravens offensive lineman D.J. Fluker has been on a serious training regimen this offseason, and he posted the result of his work on Instagram. Listed at 342 pounds, Fluker did not reveal his current weight but said he had gone from a 4XL to a 2XL T-shirt.
Signed this offseason after playing with the Seattle Seahawks last year, Fluker is one of several players vying to replace Marshal Yanda as the starting right guard. That is no easy task, but Fluker made a strong impression on Saunders the instant he saw him.
"D.J.'s a big guy. Holy smokes," Saunders said. "When I met him the other day, it was like an eclipse on top of me. Just a monster of a man. Really impressed with him, how he dove in today, just his mentality. Him getting to know us virtually over the spring and summer and really understanding what it means to be a Raven and how to work like a Raven. D.J. to me is all-in. I feel like he's going to be a huge asset wherever he ends up on our offensive line."
With No Preseason, Bodies Could Be Particularly Sore Following Week 1
No preseason games and no joint practices will save some of the wear and tear on players heading into the season. However, Saunders expects players to feel some aches and pain following the season opener against the Browns.
"There's going to be some positives for some guys and there's going to be some negatives for some guys," Saunders said. "There's guys that get paid a lot more money than me to decide whether preseason games are worthwhile, and how it affects guys physically. But for me, the training affect is that guys who would've gotten banged up, jacked up a little bit from preseason games are not. I would expect guys to go into the first game in better shape, stronger, faster, better conditioned.
"After the first game, might they be a little more sore? Absolutely. That's to be expected. But I think in the long run we're going to be ramped up and ready for the season. I think it will be a positive for us."