Never in his 39 years in the NFL has Baltimore Ravens owner Art Modell seen anything close to the training camp his new coach, Brian Billick, is running. There has been very little hard hitting, and the only scrimmage was cut short because the defense kept stuffing the offense. Many afternoons only the special teams players practice while everyone else lifts weights. There is only one workout Saturday and players have Sunday off.
"Tomorrow morning we'll have arts and crafts," Modell joked. "In the afternoon, nature study. I didn't realize I was funding Club Med."
Billick's logic seems beyond question. Why not have players as fresh and enthusiastic as possible when the regular season starts rather than being drained and, in many cases, injured? Besides, it's worked elsewhere. "Free agency, the money spent on athletes, ushered it in -- and the number of players you have in camp is less," Billick said. "Bill Walsh and his mentality changed the priorities of camp. Single-event injuries still are going to happen. But when the legs are fatigued, when you're tired, when you're worn down, that's when you can't protect yourself and things happen."
Single-event injuries kept the two best players on offense, left tackle Jonathan Ogden and wide receiver Jermaine Lewis, out of today's morning session. Ogden said he felt a hip muscle pop slightly during an early drill after stretching; Lewis said he suffered a minor pull of his right hamstring Monday afternoon.
Lewis said he expects to play in the preseason opener Thursday night against the Eagles in Philadelphia. Ogden, who along with the other linemen did not take part in the special teams-related afternoon practice, said he saw a local doctor about the injury and planned to meet with the Ravens' physician.
"It feels okay, although I probably couldn't push off on it right now," Ogden said. "I still can play Thursday, hopefully."
Billick said neither Lewis nor Ogden would play if the risk of additional injury seemed too great.
If the trend toward less intense training camps spread in the NFL after Walsh's success with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1980s, it did not reach Modell's staff either in Cleveland or the first three years in Baltimore. The coach Billick replaced, Ted Marchibroda, was keen on tough camps, and the preseason injury lists often ran long.
Billick's schedule does come with a qualifier. If the players do not work to his satisfaction, changes will be swift.
"He tells us to be grown men about all this, that he's not going to be our babysitter, which is very respectful," place kicker Matt Stover said. "He's not even checking curfew. That mentality forces guys to step it up. If you're not going to be grown men about it, you shouldn't be here anyway.
"We've all been very mature so far."
Billick said the Minnesota Vikings had similar training camps during his seven seasons as an assistant there, and their records in November and December were among the best in the league.
In 1996, the Ravens lost seven of eight games in November and December and finished 4-12. During that time frame in '97, they were 2-5-1 and ended with a 6-9-1 record. They were 4-5 over the final two months last season and ended 6-10.
"Lots of times in the past the healthier guy won the job," said 10-year veteran safety Stevon Moore. "This year it's a lot more mental [repetitions], not that much of a physical camp. The idea is to keep your first and second units healthy going into the season."
But Moore said he doesn't feel that the physical contact in training camp was a factor in how the team played the last two months under Marchibroda. "Training camp was not the reason we had losing records," he said. "You still have to execute, go out there and get the job done."
Modell is surprised by the changes, but supportive. "The other way didn't work," he said.
Ravens Notes: Billick said the place kicking competition between Stover and newcomer Scott Bentley is "dead even." Bentley, claimed off waivers from Tampa Bay in mid-April, won the field goal competition over Stover at halftime of Friday's scrimmage. Stover missed a field goal at the end of one of the two-minute drills this morning.