The Ravens are on a bonding trip, but it's also a working trip.
Afternoon temperatures were in the mid-90's Friday in Tempe, Ariz., but that didn't keep the Ravens from practicing for more than two hours outside at Arizona State's practice facility. Their four-day stay in Arizona will culminate with Sunday night's preseason game against the Cardinals, and it's the kind of extended trip the Ravens couldn't plan during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Head Coach John Harbaugh and many players thought it would be important to take a preseason trip that would strengthen camaraderie and build relationships for a 17-game regular season that will test them in many ways. Even before Friday night's team dinner, Harbaugh was seeing the benefit of deciding to leave early for Arizona. The Ravens departed Thursday afternoon and won't return until after Sunday's game.
"We experienced a situation during a recent season where we had to have practices and go home, and or we had to have zoom meetings, or we had to stand six feet apart," Harbaugh said following Friday's practice. "That takes its toll on teams and on people in general.
"Now that we're back together, we felt that we should take advantage of the situation. Let's see if we can get four or five days together on the road. What starts off the field, it shows up on the field. Whether it's work ethic, discipline, or relationships, building those types of bonds is important."
The Ravens originally planned to practice indoors Friday, but the players preferred practicing on grass which is easier on their legs that artificial surface. So, Harbaugh made the change to work on the outside field, and the players showed their commitment with a solid session.
"Practice was sharp, it was crisp, it was hot," Harbaugh said. "But we got another good hot day of work, and guys were in good spirits.
"It was the player's request to go outside and Arizona State was good, they turned on a dime for us to change plans. It was great. Now we've got the team dinner tonight to look forward to."
The Ravens only have one game on the road during the preseason, but they open the regular season on the road against the Jets, and they also play on the road Week 3 at New England. That's another reason Harbaugh wanted to take a longer preseason road trip, to give rookies and other first-year Ravens an opportunity to get a feel for how the team travels.
"That's really important," Harbaugh said. "Just how we get to meetings, how we operate at the hotel, getting the young guys a feel for the routine on the road. That's part of this trip."
The road trip is bonus for All-Pro tight end Mark Andrews, who grew up in nearby Scottsdale, Ariz. and had dinner with this family Thursday night after the team landed.
Andrews loves the idea of getting away with his teammates. The close relationship that Andrews has with many teammates has contributed to his passion for playing in Baltimore. Every year, some new players arrive, while other players depart. The identity of the 2022 Ravens is still being built, and Andrews said this trip is part of that process.
"It's huge," Andrews said. "Everyone being around each other. It's a little bit of free time, having fun, but guys are still focused. It allows us to communicate as a team, get to know each other. When we're on the field, we have to rely on each other. Chemistry, that's what this is all about."