Ravens hope to limit injuries with new workout program
— 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.
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
The Baltimore Ravens began voluntary offseason workouts on Monday.