Harbaugh demanding a lot from players

OWINGS MILLS -- Sweat and furrowed brows are defining the Baltimore Ravens' initial round of practices under new coach John Harbaugh. As the Ravens held their first minicamp since hiring Harbaugh in January, several players said the first-time head coach has challenged their physical endurance as well as their mental acumen as they try to adjust to his intense approach.

"Tough, tough," quarterback Troy Smith said. "Mentally, it's going to definitely challenge you. Physically, it's a different kind of tempo. We are reiterating a new common thought."

That change is intended to trigger a turnaround following a 5-11 campaign that cost Brian Billick his job after nine seasons.

For Harbaugh, it's a case of putting his imprint on an organization that has won just one playoff game since winning Super Bowl XXXV.

"It's football practice, I don't think there's any big philosophy to it," Harbaugh said. "I think we're trying to get on the same page offensively and establish a tempo on offense.

"We're going to establish the fact that we're going to run to the ball on defense. Get the guys working together a little bit, the coaches working with the players and vice-versa."

As a career assistant, Harbaugh joked that his biggest decision was figuring out where to stand at practice. He wound up roaming around, spending a lot of time with the special-teams units.

"Right there in the middle seemed to be the best spot," he said. "It was a good spot to get a hold of everybody."

Harbaugh definitely has his players' attention. "He's more upfront," wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "He's more engaged. He wants to be right there with you."

One of the biggest challenges for the players is absorbing the terminology in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron's playbook. Overall, the coaches are setting a fast pace.

"There is not any wasted time," quarterback Kyle Boller said. "I have a meeting here in 20 minutes and then I have to throw in a lunch between that.

"In the meetings, everything is very detailed. You've got to know it. They are not going to spoon feed it to you. It makes guys be accountable, and that's what we need for our offense to be successful."

Despite it being a voluntary minicamp, attendance was extremely high, including veterans like linebackers Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs and Bart Scott, cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, defensive end Trevor Pryce and safety Ed Reed on Thursday. Lewis and Pryce remained at Friday's workout.

"It means a lot," Harbaugh said. "It's powerful to see a room full of guys. That's a strong statement about who they are and what they're about."

NOTES: Harbaugh said that quarterback Steve McNair's retirement won't alter the offense. "No, I think it's the same offense we're installing," he said. "McNair was going to run the plays, but there are no changes." ... Boise State offensive tackle Ryan Clady and Indiana wide receiver James Hardy visited the Ravens' training complex. ... Harbaugh's father, Jack Harbaugh, a former college football head coach, was at practice. "You forget he's here, and then you see him when you come off the field," Harbaugh said. "That's deep-rooted stuff, I guess, but it's a good feeling." ... The Ravens have been working on the no-huddle offense. ... Pro Bowl running back Willis McGahee wasn't at practice due to a minor illness.

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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