Reports are starting to surface in bits and pieces out of Baltimore that several players were very unhappy with the duration of team practices leading up to the AFC divisional playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Several media outlets in Baltimore, including The Baltimore Sun, revealed that several of the discontented players threatened to complain to the NFL Players’ Union about head coach John Harbaugh’s lengthy practice schedules.
According to some sources, a compromise was reached between the players and Harbaugh the day before the team was set to take on the Steelers. The deal included shorter practices and lighter contact during certain drills.
The Baltimore Ravens' front office denies such practices ever took place, instead stating that the length of workouts remained the same between the months of December and January, and there was nothing unusual about the intensity of these team practices during the Ravens' playoff run.
Some credibility can be extended to these allegations after the Ravens' atrocious second half performance in Pittsburgh. QB Joe Flacco had the worst outing of his career against the Steelers in that matchup, turning the ball over twice and throwing for just 125 yards.
RB Ray Rice had an uncharacteristic fumble in the third quarter, which led directly to a Pittsburgh touchdown. According to team reports, Rice was supposedly suffering from a flu virus the day before the big game. At the start of the contest, Rice mentioned that he felt nearly 100 percent, and wasn’t feeling any ill effects from the flu that felled him the day before.
Do you believe lengthy practices contributed to Baltimore's loss in Pittsburgh?
In all, the entire Ravens team looked sluggish for the majority of the contest. When the offense needed to make plays, we witnessed sure-handed receivers drop key passes. Again, this was highly unusual for a receiving corps that had only dropped 14 passes up until the divisional round of the playoffs.
This, combined with a defense that couldn’t get the Steelers off the field during the second half of the game, seems to support the grievances of the unnamed Ravens players, who also added the mood in the locker room was tense the day before the game—and not in a good sense of the word.
With the 2010 NFL season finally in the history books, much of the happenings above really don’t matter anymore. However, some of the tension directed at Harbaugh by a few upset players could carry over to next season (if we’re lucky enough to have one).
Some of the talk currently circulating in Baltimore over whether Harbaugh is in tune with his team has been re-energized by these latest allegations of overstressed and overworked athletes.
Harbaugh, who’s a disciplinarian at heart, must find the delicate balance between meaningful workouts and overworking the assets he has on his team.
There will be more updates on this matter as they develop. In the meantime, it’s too tough to tell whether these extended practices had anything to do with the Ravens' collapse in Pittsburgh several weeks ago.
With the little information we have, the “enhanced practices” probably did more harm than good in the end.
Todd McGregor is a Baltimore Ravens Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. Follow Todd's work on Twitter! Twitter.com/ravens023