Working in sports media for several years now, I have had the pleasure to cover different training camps over the past seasons; visiting Lehigh University with the Eagles, Redskins Park in Ashburn, Virginia and of course Ravens’ camp at both McDaniel College and the Under Armour Performance Center in Owings Mills. As the Ravens moved back to the Palace, it was inevitable that their camp would change drastically. And even though the comfort level at 1 Winning Drive must be drastically greater for the players, there is definitely an advantage to being off site as well.
The “pros” for camp at home are business related; it is easier to operate the daily functions of the team at the locale where you conduct business. The players have access to the immense accommodations that professional athletes grow accustomed to over their careers; the training rooms, film rooms and housing situations are just better. Also, the team does not need to make arrangements to move the mass amounts of equipment needed to properly conduct practice for several weeks to an off-site locale. The conditions of the fields alone at the Ravens facility go above and beyond standards of a small D-III school known for its liberal arts program and not its athletic facilities.
The distractions on the field are also less significant as well, as thousands of screaming fans are not watching the every move of star players like Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and others, who dawn the black and purple. Though a select group of fans are welcome to Owings Mills, they are so far removed from the actual team, their presence is barely known. In short, training camp at the Palace is easier on the entire make-up of the organization to start another NFL season.
On the other hand, keeping camp at a small school has a specific advantage that cannot be taken likely. Players are forced to room together, under meager conditions (for professional athletes’ standards), which can only help a team bond into a unit. Uprooting individuals to a non-descript location will force cohesion from management down to the ball boys, while enforce a camaraderie amongst the players they cannot receive while in the comforts of their own homes.
Back to the distractions; as a team practices in front of herds of the purple camo army, they are learning under conditions more similar to a game atmosphere. The fans will not shut up at M&T Bank Stadium while the team stands on the sidelines waiting for Harbaugh’s decision on a fourth and two. It is certainly worse when the Ravens head on the road to cities like Pittsburgh and New England.
So what form of camp reigns superior? Neither. To gain the greatest advantage, a team should find a way to take advantage of both. The Ravens practices this year at M&T and the Naval Academy are good ideas to the “have their cake and eat it too,” concept, but still does not gain full advantage of the off-site camp.
If the Ravens really wanted to move ahead of the competition, they would build a full training camp facility a couple hours away (maybe on the Eastern Shore). Have this location set to hold camp without having the hassle of moving the equipment from Owings Mills. Make “dorms” for the players to live in, while having a basic replica to the Palace’s training amenities including: medical rooms, state of the art film rooms and grass turf fields (the same as the actual field at M&T). And of course, implementing a practice schedule open to fans for about half of training camp will also provide a good mix between business and distraction.
A logical solution to the Tale of Two Camps.