"I love football!"
That was the enthusiastic response I got from Coach John Harbaugh earlier this week when I asked him if he was having any fun at work.
This is the time of year when the "quiet" work of football is being done. We're not playing games. Reporters are rarely around. For that matter, we're not very public right now. The work being completed these days is hardcore football. Coaches and scouts sharing information on prospective new players…lots of time spent in front of TV screens watching video of these players.
Much of the work coaches and scouts do includes spending hours upon hours looking at video of games. Right now that focus is on college players. "This is a great time of year. It's the nuts and bolts of the game. It's the time when we build the foundation. Everyone is working," Harbaugh explained.
"It's in the Weight Room with the offseason program. It's the clanging and banging of the weights, the clapping of hands, chalk flying, loud music playing and players getting after one another," the head coach added. "It says, 'We're getting better and we're getting better together.' I love going down to the room and feeling the energy."
While the players power those slabs of iron, Ozzie Newsome has the scouts and coaches doing another kind of lifting in the Draft Room. "It's a step-by-step process. We review every player we have on our draft board. Every report is read. Discussion is encouraged," Newsome explained. "We have a saying that goes, 'Jump on the table.' That means if you're passionate about a player, even if you disagree with others in the room, you owe it to all of us to jump up on the table and argue for your guy."
The entire personnel department, including the out-of-town scouts, is in Baltimore this week, and they all participate in every discussion. When offensive players are discussed, Cam Cameron is in the Draft Room. Each position coach joins the meeting when players from his position are reviewed. Of course, Greg Mattison is there for all the defensive players. Jerry Rosburg, the assistant head coach and special teams coordinator, is there all the time. The meetings start early in the morning and go into the evenings.
The Ravens' draft board will basically be completed by tomorrow (Saturday). Ozzie says there will be some tweaking between then and the draft. "We'll still have more discussions. There will be some lobbying by coaches and scouts. That's always fun. Eric (DeCosta) and I will go back and look at some players' game film. We'll scrimmage with each other. We'll assign some scouts and coaches to look at certain players. We could draft right now, but we'll take advantage of the time we have left to do more studying," Newsome said.
FOLLOWING A PLAN
In the first week of February, the coaches, scouts and Steve Bisciotti held two days of meetings focused on the state of the Ravens. Every player on the roster was discussed thoroughly with everyone in the room, including strength coaches and trainers, encouraged to offer insight. What the player did last season and what some believe is his future with the team was bluntly considered.
Direction for the team, including football strategy, was part of the discussion. I am fortunate enough to sit in on these meetings, and here's an example of action taken as a result of this two-day study. You won't be surprised to know that Joe Flacco had some pretty good things said about him in his review. But, there was also talk about how Joe can get better and how the organization can help make him better. Members of both the coaching staff and the personnel department talked about the need to upgrade the wide receiver position.
At the end of the meetings, Newsome, who chairs these sessions, reviewed key points, discussed some plans going forward and promised: "We will get more downfield receivers for Flacco."
You know the rest of the story – so far. Flacco, who throws one of the best deep balls in the NFL and is very accurate at midrange, is now throwing to Anquan Boldin and Donte' Stallworth in our offseason workouts. Plus, we re-signed the very productive and competitive Derrick Mason.
More plans came from those meetings, but I wouldn't work here much longer if I shared those thoughts right now.
We think we'll get our 2010 regular season schedule from the NFL next week. We'll get it just a few hours before it is released to the public, and the league has not let us know when we'll receive it except to tell us at the NFL Owners' meetings last month that we'll get the schedule in mid-April.
Before we get the new one, here's one more perspective on last season's schedule. I don't know how it was for you, but it seemed to me that we were playing a good team every single week. A reporter at ESPN shed a little more light on it for me at those owners' meetings. She said: "At least you won't face all those quarterbacks again."
We faced 11 Pro Bowl QBs – some for-sure Hall of Famers – in the 2009 season. We played against Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer twice each. We also had to match up with Brett Favre, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers… And, we still finished third in the NFL in fewest yards and fewest points allowed. Pretty good season for first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison and the guys.
The schedule, the draft – we had 57 players in our offseason program last week - this is good stuff. Like Coach Harbaugh says: "I love football."
I'll talk with you during the draft in less than two weeks.
Kevin Byrne, a Ravens senior vice president, has worked in the NFL for 32 years. Byrne has been with the Ravens since the start of the franchise in 1996. Earlier in his career, Byrne was the sports information director at Marquette University, his alma mater, when they won the 1977 NCAA basketball championship under coach Al McGuire.