The Ravens decided to mix things up a bit during training camp this year.
Instead of putting the entire team on the same field – veterans and young players – Head Coach John Harbaugh decided to split them up. He put the rookies and other young players on one field, and had veterans working on another.
"I think it was a little taxing, but it was very good," General Manager Ozzie Newsome said at the end-of-season press conference. "John split up the practices, and he had the young guys on one field and the veteran guys on the other field. Therefore, we didn't have to stay out there for three hours, but we had guys getting reps."
Training camp allows for that kind of setup because the roster sizes are larger. Teams have 90 players available to practice during camp, compared to 61 during the regular season.
This year's approach was slightly unconventional based on what the Ravens had done in the past, but the change allowed everyone to be involved throughout practice.
Rather than the starters taking the bulk of the reps as the young players watched from the sidelines, everyone was getting reps. Veterans matched up against the veterans, and the youngsters fighting for roster spots went up against each other.
"Those reps, I think, paid dividends for us," Newsome said.
Newsome pointed specifically to second-year cornerback Chykie Brown as a player who benefitted from the practice setup.
"I don't know how many reps Chykie Brown took during that time, but if we would have just had a conventional practice, he wouldn't have gotten as many," Newsome said.
The payoff showed itself in the depth the Ravens had on the roster. The team went through a number of significant injuries this season, forcing the defense to start players like Brown and linebacker Josh Bynes who were on the roster bubble during camp.
Once those players were then thrust into game action, they held their own, and Newsome credits some of that success to the practice setup all the way back in July.
"I think I realized and John realized the importance of depth," Newsome said. "John and his coaches and our staff – my personnel staff – we realized that the development of players is an ultimate thing that we have to do."