Harbaugh has his game face on

WESTMINSTER -- Hours before conducting a team meeting Monday afternoon prior to officially launching training camp today, new Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh was already full of intensity.

Although the first-year head coach was bouncing around the team hotel with a smile on his face while greeting rookies, quarterbacks and injured veterans, he remains deadly serious about the demanding regimen he has outlined for his inaugural camp in Westminster.

Bed checks and curfew are in. Veterans are no longer allowed to spend the night at home in their own beds after a few days. There are no plans to retreat to the air-conditioned training complex in Owings Mills on hot days in a departure from former coach Brian Billick's policies.

And hard-hitting, two-a-day practices are definitely in vogue under Harbaugh's schedule that includes 13 consecutive days of practice after the entire team reports Wednesday. Players' first day off is Aug. 8 following a preseason road opener against the New England Patriots.

Harbaugh is intolerant of trash-talking, has removed benches from the practice field and requires players to tuck in their jerseys. He's sporting his game face as he tries to make the Ravens contenders again after a last-place finish in the AFC North that cost Billick his job.

"Training camp is tough, training camp is hard," Harbaugh said. "I've heard the term, 'old-school training camp.' I don't know if that's real accurate because back in the old days you had 120 players in camp and you ran those 3 1/2 hour practices. That's not what we're talking about here. We're going to run an intelligent camp.

"They're going to get tired. Their legs are going to get weary because that's how you get good. The goal is to become a good football team. The goal is not to be a fresh football team coming out of camp because that's impossible. The goal is to be a strong football team coming out of camp, and that's what we're going to try to build."

As Harbaugh oversees his first camp, he has several pressing issues to deal with.

The top dilemma after quarterback Steve McNair's abrupt retirement is deciding upon a starter between rookie Joe Flacco, Troy Smith and Kyle Boller. It was the first question Harbaugh was greeted with during a packed press conference.

Harbaugh declined to reveal who will take the first snap with the first-team offense this morning at McDaniel College. Odds are it will be Smith who took the majority of the snaps with the first offense during minicamps.

"It's a good thing you're coming to practice," Harbaugh said. "You'll see it."

The former Philadelphia Eagles assistant didn't specify a timeta ble for choosing an opening-game starter Sept. 7 against the Cincinnati Bengals at M&T Bank Stadium.

It will be interesting to see how quickly Flacco advances after starring at Delaware, if Smith keeps up the momentum of a strong offseason and if Boller can eliminate his mistakes as he tries to regain his old job.

"We're going to have to decide before we play the Bengals," Harbaugh said. "That's the timetable that's thrust upon us. Really and truly and maybe it's hard to believe, but our plan is to put the best quarterback on the field at that time, whoever that guy is. Our goal is for those guys to make that decision based on the way they play."

Harbaugh is looking to shape a more disciplined, less penalty-prone football team.

Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, who has been running the franchise since its inception 13 years ago, acknowledged that he's extremely curious to observe Harbaugh's first camp.

"We had a great nine-year run with Brian and the way we did things, which involved winning the Super Bowl, but I'm excited about this training camp with John and his staff," Newsome said. "I'm going to be given lots of opportunities to evaluate the players on this football team so that we can come up with the 53 best players."

Harbaugh is overseeing a youthful offensive line in flux following the retirement of All-Pro left tackle Jonathan Ogden.

Former University of Maryland player Jared Gaither is slated to replace Ogden on the left side, and Adam Terry has been installed at right tackle.

Gaither is full of innate potential and athleticism, but needs to display a stronger work ethic and commitment. Terry needs to develop a mean streak and master his footwork.

The Ravens are expected to be extremely strong up the middle with Jason Brown at center, Ben Grubbs at left guard and Marshal Yanda at right guard. However, the group lacks experience as Brown leads the way with 29 career starts.

"You have an opportunity with a young group of guys that have worked hard and with a coach like John Matsko to build something special here that can last a long time," Harbaugh said. "If we can put together an offensive line that's going to be a little better than what most people think it's going to be and build on that for the next 10 or 12 years, that's an opportunity."

Harbaugh's ultra-disciplined approach mirrors the camps that Eagles coach Andy Reid has traditionally run.

The biggest change for Harbaugh is the power he now wields after years of coaching special teams and defensive backs.

However, the career assistant said he intends to delegate to his staff and listen to their input.

"I think it's easy because I have a vision for where I want this thing to go and I'm setting the tempo for the type of team we're going to build," Harbaugh said. "They understand what the vision is, and they're contributing to it. When a guy has a good idea that's better than what we're thinking about doing, we do it. Just take the best idea and go.

"The best piece of advice that I got from Andy Reid, my dad, Dick Vermeil, different coaches was just to be yourself and do what you think is right and what you believe in and that will be good enough."

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


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