Harbaugh full of energy for NFL debut

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the Baltimore Ravens' rookies hit the field for their NFL debut against the New England Patriots, the trademark signs of nerves and boundless energy should be obvious.

Just keep a watch out for all those tapping cleats, wide eyes and frenetic movement when quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice and the other newcomers sprint out of the tunnel in the Ravens' preseason opener Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.

And don't be surprised if those emotions are mirrored by their new coach.

For first-year Ravens coach John Harbaugh, this marks his initiation as a head coach at any level. The 45-year-old former Philadelphia Eagles assistant will run the sideline for the first time since being hired Jan. 18 as the replacement for Brian Billick.

"I expect not to know what to expect and how it's going to be like," Harbaugh said. "You talk about the rookies and how they're going to respond. I'm interested in how I'm going to respond. We'll see how it goes."

As the third head coach in franchise history, Harbaugh has set a hard-hitting tone with a grueling training camp at McDaniel College.

While he has been demanding and discipline-oriented with more stringent rules than his predecessor, Harbaugh has also built a reputation for being willing to dial it back a notch.

He granted a banged-up football team 24 hours off last weekend to reward their hard work and get them energized after a lengthy stretch of consecutive practices since arriving in Westminster last month.

"Coach Harbaugh has done a great job balancing everything," linebacker Jarret Johnson said. "He is looking out for our best interests, but, at the same time, we know who the head coach is.

"We have the utmost respect for him and he shows the same respect to us. He has a plan for us and we're excited about it."

There has been far more live contact drills in these practices than during an entire Billick camp. With a game clock keeping track, the amount of repetitions has increased markedly with a faster tempo being installed.

"I heard there was a lot of hitting going on," said cornerback Samari Rolle, who reported to camp Monday after missing the first 11 days of practice while grieving his father's death. "I heard it was different from what camp has been in the past."

Harbaugh is making the leap to running an entire football team after working for nine seasons as a special-teams coordinator, spending his last season in Philadelphia under coach Andy Reid coaching the Eagles' defensive backs.

Harbaugh won over the Ravens' search committee during two rounds of interviews with his enthusiasm, football acumen and willingness to listen and accept input. He was the Ravens' second choice behind Dallas Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, but the Ravens are more than pleased with how things have worked out so far.

Harbaugh has delegated significant authority to offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, but he's involved in every aspect of the Ravens' program. He has the final word on all major decisions, including timeouts and short-yardage situations, but isn't one to micromanage.

"Coach Harbaugh is always everywhere," linebacker Antwan Barnes said. "He's the one at 11 o'clock checking rooms. He's everywhere all the time, and that's a good sign."

Despite adopting a hard-nosed approach for his team, Harbaugh has also been described as approachable by his players.

He even bent his own rules, allowing linebacker Gary Stills to be an exception to his ban on hoop earrings.

"He's down to earth," Rolle said. "That's the biggest thing. He's like a regular guy.

"He's stern, but, at the same time, there's no talking down to you. He's just talking to you like one of the guys."

As Harbaugh joins the exclusive fraternity of 32 NFL head coaches, he'll be paired opposite ultra-successful Patriots coach Bill Belichick. Harbaugh partially owes his situation to Belichick, who made an unsolicited call on Harbaugh's behalf to the Ravens' search committee.

That recommendation didn't cement Harbaugh's candidacy, but it definitely didn't hurt to have a respected coach like Belichick stand up for him. The two coaches only know each other casually through former Cleveland Browns special teams coach Scott O'Brien, a close friend of Harbaugh's.

"It's going to be an honor and a thrill to go up before the game to shake his hand and chat," Harbaugh said. "I hope he talks to me."

Although Harbaugh has a lot of respect for Belichick and his collection of Super Bowl rings, he didn't reach the pinnacle of coaching to be in awe of his counterparts.

His competitive nature is expected to be on display tonight and every game.

"Harbaugh is a football guy," Johnson said. "He knows what it's like to be out there grinding it out. He knows that you have to fight through it and never back up even an inch."

NOTES: Several injured players are expected to be held out of this game, including running back Willis McGahee as he deals with a sore left knee. Rookie running back Ray Rice will start in his place.

Safety Ed Reed (shoulder), wide receiver Demetrius Williams (left Achilles' tendon) and tight end Daniel Wilcox (offseason toe surgery) are on the physically unable to performance list.

Other players expected to be sidelined: cornerbacks Samari Rolle (bereavement) and Chris McAlister (right knee), wide receiver Patrick Carter (dislocated left shoulder), running back P.J. Daniels (cramps), offensive tackles Jared Gaither (sprained left ankle) and Adam Terry (sprained right ankle), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (sprained right medial collateral ligament), nose guard Kelly Gregg (left knee), tight ends Todd Heap (calf) and Aaron Walker (left knee) and outside linebacker Dan Cody (right foot).

These players are considered questionable, but may play on a limited basis: wide receiver Mark Clayton (shoulder) linebackers Bart Scott (leg) and Gary Stills (knee) and cornerback Fabian Washington (leg).

Linebacker Terrell Suggs, the team's franchise player, has yet to report to camp and hasn't signed his $8.472 million tender.

The Patriots are expected to rest or barely play several starters, including quarterback Tom Brady, wide receiver Randy Moss, linebacker Mike Vrabel and safety Rodney Harrison.

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


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