The Ravens’ last two weeks have been some of the wildest in team history, and frankly, league history after their COVID outbreak placed 23 players on the Reserve/COVID-19 list and postponed their game against the Steelers three times.
And one of the side effects of a rearranged schedule, which has the Ravens in the midst of a four-week stretch of games set to be played on a Wednesday, Tuesday, Monday and Sunday, is that it’s easy to lose track of the days. Even for coach John Harbaugh.
“I know it’s a Wednesday,” Harbaugh said on a Friday with a smile. “Today is a Wednesday.”
Of course, Harbaugh knows that it’s technically Friday, at least according to the calendar. But it still feels like a Tuesday by virtue of the Ravens’ game two days ago against the Steelers. It feels a bit like a Wednesday because of their upcoming game in five days. It even still feels like a Friday because, well, that’s what day it actually is.
No matter which day it is, the Ravens have five days to prepare for the Cowboys in their first semblance of normalcy since their loss to the Titans nearly two weeks ago. That starts with actually getting to practice.
“We just need to practice more than anything,” Harbaugh said on actual-Thursday. “We haven’t practiced much. We haven’t practiced hardly at all. So, we need to have some good practices and just get our football ‘sea legs’ under us, so we can go out there and perform the way we want to.”
The Ravens had their game against the Titans on Nov. 22, but that night, running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins tested positive. The facility was closed Monday morning, before a light walkthrough took place before the team’s then-short week upcoming against the Steelers. Instead, it turned into a week only imaginable in the league’s worst nightmares.
The team wasn’t in the building for a week, and even then, they had a light walkthrough of a socially distant nature before their game against the Steelers.
“My position specifically, it’s a little harder to show up on Sundays and do your job without the preparation throughout the week of feeling a pass rush, feeling a body, feeling a run defender and all the different type of fits on a double team,” left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. said.
With players being placed on the COVID list every single day, the Ravens were in a bind as they waited to see who would be placed on the list after a positive test or being identified as a close-contact. That, more than just physically, was taxing mentally.
Let alone the potential of bringing the virus home to a family member or suffering significant symptoms themselves, a few players had to prepare to play an NFL game through technology.
Third-string quarterback Trace McSorley, who was placed on the team’s COVID-19 list before the Titans game, didn’t go through a regular practice before the Steelers game. And after Robert Griffin III tweaked a hamstring, he was forced to enter the game in the fourth quarter — and still threw a 70-yard touchdown pass.
Even still, the Ravens’ week without practice was the toughest one they’ll go through this season, and certainly the toughest one they’ve ever been through.
“Throughout the week I’ll visualize the way my guy rushes, the fits of the runs, the fits of my double teams,” Brown said. “I spent a lot of time taking pass sets on air outside throughout the week and by myself, working on my rhythm and my timing. Trying to visualize punching the guy, trying to visualize his rush moves and the things that he wanted to do in his gameplan. It was definitely different, something I’ve never done before. That was the first time ever playing a game without having a true practice.”
Players will leave the COVID list this week — Harbaugh was vague about which ones would — but who and when remain big questions.
If Lamar Jackson isn’t cleared until Sunday or Monday, is that enough time for the Ravens to feel comfortable entrusting McSorley for Tuesday’s game if Griffin isn’t healthy? Will the offensive line have enough reps together to feel comfortable starting Trystan Colon-Castillo at center again? Or will Patrick Mekari or Matt Skura take over once again?
Those are questions that can’t be answered without the one thing they haven’t had: practice. And any form of practice at the team’s facility, no matter who is there, is better than last week.
“It’s tough, but you’ve just got to work with what you’ve got,” inside linebacker Patrick Queen said. “Pushups, sit-ups, jog around the block, whatever you can. It’s tough, but the biggest part for me was not being able to practice then being full contact when you hit somebody. It’s like your body goes in shock from not hitting for like a week or two.”