Ravens coach John Harbaugh is prepared to tackle the unprecedented task of running a training camp with limited contact, no preseason games, and the ever-present threat of a player contracting COVID-19.
As Baltimore prepares to defend its AFC North title and become a Super Bowl contender, Harbaugh must keep his players and coaching staff safe while overseeing position battles, and ultimately finalizing the roster for the Sept. 13 opener against Cleveland.
“It’s no different than what anyone else has to deal with. If you look at things that are going on in the world right now, whether it’s grocery shopping or getting gas, you’ve got to figure it out,” Harbaugh said Thursday in a Zoom call. “It’s been challenging — but it’s been kind of fun.”
The playbook for operating training camp during a pandemic includes unexpected audibles.
“We’re still getting the memos and emails about how practice has to be organized and structured, the timing of when guys report and are eligible to practice,” Harbaugh said. “We’re just working through it right now, trying to put together the best training camp that we possibly can and to be the best team we can be when the season starts.”
The NFL has already deemed that there will not be any preseason games, so all roster moves must be based on what is seen during the practice sessions later this summer.
“Decisions will be made once we put the pads on,” Harbaugh said. “Having the games would be a plus. It would help us make an evaluation. But we can make the evaluation based on what we have, and that’s what we’ll have to do.”
On the positive side, there won’t be any season-ending injuries sustained during games that don’t count.
“I’m cool with it,” quarterback Lamar Jackson said. “Our guys will be going into the regular season safely. No little nick-ups, injuries or anything like that will occur from preseason games. We won’t be getting hit or anything like that until the regular season.”
The Ravens have already had two players opt out: kick returner De’Anthony Thomas and backup tackle Andre Smith. More may decide to take that route, although Harbaugh said no other players have approached him on that matter.
“It’s probably something you can’t spend too much time thinking about,” he said. “It’s no different than an injury. You can’t expect that stuff, you don’t really plan on it, but when it happens you’ve got to respond to it.”
The Ravens will begin football-related activities on Monday. Baltimore went 14-2 last year and didn’t get stripped by free agency, so there will be only a few positions up for grabs.
Harbaugh is looking for a right guard to replace the retired Marshal Yanda. Top draft pick Patrick Queen will get a good look at filling the void at middle linebacker. And there will be an open competition to find a deep threat to join second-year receiver Marquise Brown.
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