The Method Behind the Madness

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The success of the Raven's organized team activities was not by coincidence.

It can be in large part traced back to the teaching methods instituted by Head Coach John Harbaugh and the rest of his staff.

It's a process Coach Harbaugh calls, "whole-part-whole," a cycle that includes veterans and rookies but was particularly helpful in bringing Baltimore's newcomers up to speed. And it's what has Baltimore's players and coaches feeling advanced when they're still only in June.

"We're not starting slow," Coach Harbaugh said. "We put it all in, and then we break it down, put it all in, break it down. It's kind of a process."

The start of the offseason, even before the draft, would be "part," since it's football school for the veterans. That's when coaches review some of the fundamentals and put some of the framework of the system in place.

Then the rookies arrive and Harbaugh throws them right into the deep end. This is the "whole."

Harbaugh's philosophy is to hold the lone mandatory camp when the rookies arrive so they can learn from all the veterans first-hand. Since rookies have never been to an NFL practice they quickly see how it's done simply through osmosis.

"Sometimes a picture is worth a thousand words," Harbaugh said. "They can see a receiver, Anquan Boldin, run a route the way it's supposed to be run and now start to apply it."

Harbaugh didn't slow down the pace of practice for the rookies either. The rookies were thrown right into the mix, even at positions they didn't know. Such was the case for tight end Dennis Pitta and rookie free agent fullback Mike McLaughlin, who switched from playing linebacker in college.

 "It's kind of like drinking from a fire hose," Pitta said.

"The first day was like getting thrown into the fire," McLaughlin added. "That's why this is a great place to be, because they do that. You learn. To me there's nobody better to compete against and learn from than the guys in this locker room."

With the rookies' heads still spinning a bit, the veterans take off for a little rest as the Ravens hold their rookie camp. It's back to "part," where coaches tap the brakes, go through each play meticulously with the rookies and give them more reps.

Since they've now seen it and better know what pace is expected of them, the rookies can better understand where their coaches are coming from.

A successful rookie camp is intended to show on the field the next week when Harbaugh steps on the gas again. This past week was a final look at how much the rookies – and even free agent additions – progressed before camps broke until training camp in late July.

The rookies looked good when they first arrived at Owings Mills. They looked better during Thursday's final practice, making eye-opening catches and not having to be corrected as much on where they were lining up or optioning to, for example.

 "I definitely feel more comfortable," McLaughlin said. "Seeing myself on tape, I'm moving like a fullback. I look like a fullback now as opposed to being a linebacker and just playing fullback."

Harbaugh was certainly pleased as he adjourned the team Thursday. The rookies can come back next week, but they and the rest of the team reported feeling good heading into the break.

"I think as a team, we worked really hard," Harbaugh said. "Not just during the OTAs, but from March 15th until today and I'm proud of the way they worked. I think we maxed out our offseason."

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