Harbaugh's Ravens brawl at minicamp
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are doing more than merely fighting for jobs at their first mandatory minicamp under new coach John Harbaugh.
They're fighting each other, too.
Nearly all 85 players in camp were involved in a squabble Saturday that began when offensive tackle Oniel Cousins and defensive tackle Amon Gordon threw punches after running back Allen Patrick was taken down hard on a burst up the middle. All the players surged toward the middle of the field, and it was nearly two minutes before peace was restored.
"Guys are competing, so tempers flare a little bit," Harbaugh said.
Later during practice, which was held indoors because of rain, defensive backs Corey Ivy and Frank Walker came to blows during a blocking drill.
"Don't grab me, man!" Ivy yelled.
After the players were separated, veteran cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle spoke with Walker, who signed as a free agent during the offseason after playing with Green Bay in 2007.
"Chill out, man," Rolle said. "There's too much at stake."
For the first time in a decade, the Ravens are conducting a minicamp without Brian Billick, who was fired in January after a nine-year run. There are jobs at stake and a new offense to learn under Cam Cameron, which has fueled emotions at the three-day camp that started Friday. The players aren't wearing pads, but there's plenty of hitting going on - much of it after the whistle.
"Man, it's intense out there," tight end Todd Heap said. "Everybody's trying to learn what's going on and everybody's a little bit on edge."
In a way, that's how Harbaugh likes it. Seeing two players fight on the practice field is nothing new, but to have the rest of the team join the fray is a sight not often seen on the football field. Yet none of the coaches immediately sought to restore peace, and defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was actually laughing as he stood in the background.
Ryan is one of the few holdovers from the Billick regime. He worked with Harbaugh years ago at the University of Cincinnati, and knows that Baltimore's new head coach won't let things get too crazy.
"He's always in control. When it's not going his way, he'll get it going his way," Ryan said. "That's part of it right now. I think there are a lot of people that are anxious and uncertain. We want it to be chaos. That's what John's talked about. You look at the tempo of our offense, the way we're setting things up and the different things we're doing under Cam. It's just new. It's more pressure on everybody."
Pressure is trying to rebound from a 5-11 season, which is exactly what the Ravens are attempting to do. Throw in the uncertainty of playing for a new coach, an undetermined depth chart and the fatigue that comes from practicing twice a day, and just about anything can happen.
"You go 5-11, guess what• You'd better be intense," defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "It doesn't matter who the coach is. You have to develop a sense of urgency at 5-11. You have to earn the right to have a calm and relaxing offseason, and you can't do that at 5-11."
Pryce, however, can't condone the fighting. Not while teams like the New England Patriots and New York Giants are using their minicamps to build on successful seasons.
"Go ahead, wrestle each other, pull each other's facemasks, yeah, great, wonderful, have fun. Now we gotta go play the Patriots. They won 18 straight football games. The Giants won the Super Bowl. Do we really have to prove we're all men?" Pryce said. "If we can get all this out of the way now, scrapping and being undisciplined and 80 men jumping in a pile together, fine. So now we've proved I'm tough, you're tough, hooray, we're all tough. Are we a good football team• What's more important, proving you're tough or proving we're a good football team• That's how I look at it."
Pryce said he was laughing at his teammates as they piled together in the middle of the field. It wasn't funny to Cousins and Gordon, but afterward they seemed at peace with each other.
"At the end of the day, we're teammates," Cousins said.
"We settled it like men," Gordon insisted. "No hard feelings."
Harbaugh liked the show of emotion, but doesn't expect to see a similar show anytime soon.
"We had a good practice. Our guys are competitive, they like football, it's going to happen," he said. "I think as they realize the tempo of the practice is going to stay the same, it will probably happen less and less. They're a feisty bunch."