Ravens hope to limit in­juries with new work­out pro­gram

Cecil Whig - - 2 632576 - By SEAN GRO­GAN

sgro­gan@ce­cil­whig.com

— When 63 Bal­ti­more Ravens ar­rived to the team’s prac­tice fa­cil­ity for the start of the vol­un­tary off­sea­son work­out pro­gram, they were in for bit of a sur­prise.

“I think a lot of peo­ple are shocked just by how in­tense it is,” cor­ner­back Jimmy Smith said. “Be­fore we kind of eased into it, and this year coach [John] Har­baugh wanted us to start at the top, so there was no eas­ing into it. The in­ten­sity is def­i­nitely ramped up. It’s a lot more burst, quick-type ex­er­cises, like sprint­ing, 60-yard dashes, that type of thing. I think it’s go­ing to be good for our ex­plo­sion.”

Smith said the Ravens are ‘go­ing to be in great shape come OTAs’. Then he ad­justed that pre­dic­tion, say­ing they’ll be in great shape by Fri­day.

Changes to the off­sea­son work­out pro­gram were not brought about ran­domly. Bal­ti­more is look­ing to avoid a re­peat of last sea­son when it set a fran­chise record with 20 play­ers sent to the sea­son-end­ing in­jured re­serve list.

Steve Saun­ders is the man brought in to pre­vent that from hap­pen­ing again.

OWINGS MILLS

Saun­ders was hired as the Ravens’ di­rec­tor of per­for­mance and re­cov­ery. Ac­cord­ing to his bio on the team’s web­site, ‘Saun­ders over­sees all sports sci­ence, speed train­ing and re­cov­ery ini­tia­tives, work­ing closely with the ath­letic train­ing and strength and con­di­tion­ing de­part­ments. His fo­cus in­cludes player in­jury pre­ven­tion, re­cov­ery and en­ergy sys­tem train­ing in an ef­fort to max­i­mize per­for­mance.’

While Saun­ders hopes to limit in­juries, he knows elim­i­nat­ing them is im­pos­si­ble.

“I think we’re just try­ing to say: ‘Alright, how can we get ahead of in­juries?’ And re­ally, in­juries are mus­cle im­bal­ances or they’re overuse in­juries or fa­tigue,” he said. “How can we look at that, get ahead of it, mon­i­tor it and re­ally try and stop the nui­sance in­juries. I don’t think you can stop the freak in­juries.”

Saun­ders listed ham­string and hip-flexor pulls as com­mon nui­sance in­juries. ACL tears, like the one that ended quar­ter­back Joe Flacco’s 2015 sea­son, are ex­am­ples of un­pre­ventable freak in­juries.

Saun­ders is part of a new breed of train­ers mak­ing their way into the NFL. He said a hand­ful of other teams have hired sports-sciences pro­fes­sion­als like him­self.

Saun­ders founded Power Train Sports In­sti­tute in 1999 and has worked with hun­dreds of pro­fes­sional ath­letes since.

Part of his new-school method is an in­creased em­pha­sis on re­cov­ery.

“Re­cov­ery, to me, is: Can they prac­tice to­mor­row at a high level as they did to­day, week to week? Can they per­form Week 16 like they did Week 1? We’re try­ing to put that sys­tem in place to have a real suc­cess­ful year,” Saun­ders said. “We’re just look­ing about be­ing smart with our work and our rest, what we’re train­ing that day and mak­ing sure every­thing builds.”

Saun­ders feels in­jury pre­ven­tion needs to be ap­proached on a per­sonal ba­sis. He works with ath­letic train­ers to look for things like mus­cle im­bal­ances in the play­ers. Tech­nol­ogy also plays a role.

“We’re im­ple­ment­ing some new soft­ware and some new cam­era sys­tems where we’re look­ing at ranges of mo­tion in the body,” Saun­ders said. “We’re look­ing at move­ments in the body, and we’re get­ting a good base­line now of per­for­mance – stuff that we can mea­sure month to month, week to week and say, ‘OK, is this guy break­ing down? Did he have too many plays? Did he have too many reps? Does he need ex- tra work? Does he need less work?’ [We are] re­ally try­ing to get ahead of that stuff this year.”

Re­sults from the first day of Saun­ders’ new pro­gram were charted, which, ac­cord­ing to wide re­ceiver Ka­mar Aiken, cre­ates com­pe­ti­tion.

“They started from Day One with the com­pe­ti­tion, so I would say it’s a lot more com­pet­i­tive, and just guys get­ting af­ter it,” Aiken said. “They’re keep­ing a chart on who’s com­ing across first, and who’s com­ing across last, so guys are pay­ing at­ten­tion to that and it’s get­ting a lit­tle more com­pet­i­tive ev­ery day … I think if you start from Day One with the com­pet­i­tive stuff, it’s go­ing to trans­late to the field. I love to com- pete any­way, so what­ever they’ve got for us, I’m all for it.”

Saun­ders liked what he saw from the Ravens on Day One, but was not sure if they felt the same.

“They’re work­ing hard. It’s dif­fer­ent for them. It’s not what they’re ex­pect­ing, so we sort of pulled the rug out from un­der them yes­ter­day when they showed up that it wasn’t last year’s first run; it was some­thing dif­fer­ent,” he said. “I think they liked it and hated it all in the same breath. No­body took the tires off and keyed my truck yet so, I’m OK. But, that still could hap­pen.”

Fol­low Sean Gro­gan on Twit­ter: @Sean_Ce­cilWhig

PHOTO CON­TRIB­UTED BY THE BAL­TI­MORE RAVENS

The Bal­ti­more Ravens be­gan vol­un­tary off­sea­son work­outs on Mon­day.

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