Ravens get surprising early start to bye week

October 03, 2011 | Luke Jones

After a convincing 34-17 win over the New York Jets to improve their record to 3-1 heading into their bye week, Ravens players received more good news on Monday afternoon.

Instead of working for a few days this week before receiving five straight days off, a new wrinkle in the collective bargaining agreement, players were cut loose to start their mini-vacations early after careful consideration from John Harbaugh and the coaching staff. Many players assumed the break wouldn’t begin until Wednesday or Thursday, but the end result of Sunday night’s game probably didn’t hurt the decision-making process.

“We had a conversation with the key veterans and also with the coaches,” coach John Harbaugh said. “I’ll tell you, nobody likes practice more than me. That’s proven out to be true, but our guys do like practice. They are not afraid of work, but really with our numbers, we just didn’t see a way we could put together a viable practice with our numbers. The rehab is more important, I thought. We think the practices really would have done us more harm than they would have done us good in the next two days.”

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With all seven players on the inactive list due to injury for Sunday’s game and safety Tom Zbikowski leaving the game with a concussion, the bye week couldn’t come at a better time for the banged-up Ravens after dealing with ailments along the offensive line, in the secondary, and at the wide receiver position.

For a coach like Harbaugh who’s known for his hard-nosed, workmanlike approach to preparation, perhaps it reflects an evolution in wanting to take better care of his players in his fourth season as Baltimore coach.

“I think it shows a lot of trust on our coaches’ part because they know we’re going to go home and we’re going to work out,” linebacker Jarret Johnson said. “We’re going to keep in shape and do as much as you can to improve your body going down the stretch. But, I was pretty shocked.”

The primary focus revolves around rookie cornerback Jimmy Smith, who suffered a high ankle sprain against Pittsburgh in Week 1, and veteran wide receiver Lee Evans, who has missed the last two games while dealing with a lingering ankle injury. However, the biggest factor working in the Ravens’ favor is the timetable for every player’s projected return.

None of the eight injured players are expected to miss much more time after the bye week, and if Harbaugh has his way, all will be available when the Ravens return to M&T Bank Stadium for Week 6 action on Oct. 16.

“We hope to get them all back,” Harbaugh said. “I’d probably be a little bit disappointed if we don’t get them all back. I don’t think you ever really know for sure with some of these things, but probably the No. 1 goal this week is to improve the health of our football team.”

Injured players will be required to report to the facility for treatment and rehabilitation, but healthy team members will be expected to maintain their conditioning on their own. Some players will go home to various parts of the country — former Oregon tight end Ed Dickson even plans to attend his alma mater’s football game in Eugene — while many veterans will remain in town with their families.

Most players view the bye week as a chance to have some fun and get away from football, but veterans enjoy the extra time to forgive bodies that now take more time to recover after years of delivering and receiving punishment on the gridiron. Older players who once felt recovering and ready to practice on Monday or Tuesday following games find their recovery time lingering deeper into the week while they’re back on the practice field preparing for the next game.

“First of all, Wednesdays are brutal because you’re more sore,” said Johnson, now in his ninth year. “You know, when I was younger, Monday you’re a little sore, Tuesday you’re feeling better, and Wednesday you’re ready to go. Now, on Wednesday I’m still feeling it. So, to have a bye week is huge. We’re going to take advantage of this bye week. We’re going to rest. We’re all going to get three or four good lifts in, get some good cardio in.”

Putting in that individual work is critical to the Ravens’ success when they return to the practice field next week with their eyes on improving to 4-1 against the Houston Texans and building upon early-season success despite a rash of key injuries.

Harbaugh repeatedly said this year’s Ravens would be a work in progress with so many young players with expanded roles and a number of veteran newcomers adjusting to their surroundings in Baltimore. Questions remain and there are no guarantees in the ever-changing nature of the NFL, but the Ravens coach is excited for the possibilities of what lies ahead when his team is playing closer to full strength.

And with emphatic wins over two projected AFC contenders in Pittsburgh and New York, it’s hard to find fault with Harbaugh’s optimism.

“We told the guys today, and I really believe this, we are only going to get better, but getting better is a choice,” Harbaugh said. “We will decide if we’re going to get better or not based on how hard we decide to work. If we do the things we need to do to stay strong and overcome adversity and all that stuff. … There are 1,000 things that go into it, but I am excited, and I am proud of our guys, yet, hey, we have a long way to go.”

Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear more from John Harbaugh and Jarret Johnson on Monday prior to the Ravens’ taking their respite for Week 5.

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