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Ravens Altered Training Program To Prevent Injuries


Any Ravens player who hasn't reported to the voluntary strength and conditioning program yet, please stop reading now.

A lot of changes have been made and players are in for quite a surprise.

"I think a lot of people are shocked by how intense it is," cornerback Jimmy Smith said. "We're running a lot – way more than we have in the past. So I think we're going to be in great shape by OTAs – probably by next Friday."

While the first change players noticed is the increased running, the alterations go a lot deeper.

Plagued by an unwelcomed record 20 players on injured reserve last season (and 19 the year before), Head Coach John Harbaugh and the Ravens have shaken up the team's training program.

Now, there will be a much higher priority on identifying players' specific physical weaknesses with the intention of preventing certain types of injuries before they happen. The man in charge of that will be newly hired Director of Performance and Recovery Steve Saunders.

As his bio states, Saunders will oversee all sports science, speed training and recovery initiatives. His focus is on injury prevention, recovery and energy system training in an effort to maximize performance.

Saunders is the founder of Power Train Sports Institute, which has grown to 28 locations nationwide. He is best known for his work with Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker James Harrison, who is still playing at a high level at age 37, and also worked with former Ravens linebacker Jarret Johnson.

To Saunders' knowledge, the Ravens are one of just a handful of NFL teams to employ somebody like him.

"I'm trying to fill the gap and add the one component to our athletic training and strength and performance," Saunders said.

Saunders' program has multiple elements. First, he wants to identify weaknesses in the players' bodies.

Professional athletes are excellent compensators, as Saunders explained. For example, if their ankles are weak, they'll use their calf muscles to create balance and overcome that deficiency.

The Ravens are using a new imaging program to look at players' range of motion and movements to tell where they are stronger and weaker. They have done it at the start of the program to give the team a baseline of performance that they can monitor each week. It enables the team to tailor their training more to individual players' specific needs.

"Injuries are muscle imbalances," Saunders said. "They're overuse or fatigue. How can we look at that, get ahead of it, monitor it and really try to stop the nuisance injuries?"

An example of a "nuisance injury" is a hamstring pull. They're injuries that can be caused by any number of other physical problems. If those weaknesses are addressed ahead of time, the injury may be avoided altogether.

Somebody like wide receiver Michael Campanaro, who has struggled with hamstring issues, should greatly benefit from that help. Saunders was careful to say that his methods can't prevent "freak injuries" such as the blown ACL suffered by quarterback Joe Flacco.

Another prong of his program is a different recovery process. There's going to be a lot more focus put on giving the players time between workouts to let their bodies heal and restore energy. That comes through various stretching and other programs.

"Recovery, to me, is whether they can practice tomorrow at as high a level as they did today," Saunders said. "Can they perform in Week 16 like they did in Week 1? We're trying to put that whole system in place so we can have a successful year."

At the end of the day, it's still a whole lot of hard work, as players have quickly discovered.

The team's new running program has them doing speed and power work on Mondays and Wednesdays and conditioning on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Smith said there are more burst and quickness exercises, like sprinting 60-yard dashes.

"Before we kind of eased into it," Smith said. "This year, Coach Harbaugh wanted us to start at the top. There's no easing into it. The intensity is definitely ramped up."

The Ravens have also added more competition into the running program. They are charting who crosses the line first and who comes across last on each sprint.

"Guys are paying attention to that and it's getting a little more competitive each day," wide receiver Kamar Aiken said. "If you start with competition from Day 1, it's going to translate to the field. I love to compete anyway."

Even though Saunders joked that they "pulled the rug out" from under the players, the transition has gone well so far.

"I think they liked it and hated it all in the same breath," Saunders joked. "Nobody took my tires off and keyed my truck yet, so I'm OK. But that could still happen."

Go inside the Ravens practice facility and weight room as the team got back together for the first day of the offseason program.

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