Commentary

Harbaugh keeps Flacco, Ngata on edge

Originally Published: August 16, 2009
By Chris Mortensen | ESPN

WESTMINSTER, Md. -- John Harbaugh blistered some freelance photographers for breaking a rule Sunday. If you observe the Baltimore Ravens on the practice field, you don't sit, you stand. Soon, they were escorted from the field.

For the players, there is no standing around. A few moments after giving the heave-ho to the photographers, Harbaugh directed his fire at his offense and quarterback Joe Flacco for letting the defense get the best of them.

"These quarterbacks wear a red jersey and think they're untouchable -- they need to throw it faster!" Harbaugh yelled toward the huddle and the sideline.

So for all those who believe that Ray Lewis brings the passion to the Ravens, understand that Harbaugh surpasses his intensity. And he isn't about to let up, even if Flacco drew rave reviews for his rookie season.

[+] EnlargeHaloti Ngata
AP Photo/Rob CarrDefensive tackle Haloti Ngata says John Harbaugh has made him a much better player.
"I think he felt we lacked tempo [Sunday], so he made sure he jumped on us. It all starts with me, so he called us out for getting sacked during the two-minute drill," Flacco explained. "But that's the way he is -- fiery, high tempo, until the whistle blows on the play, until the horn blows to end practice and until we're finished watching film."

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata was a first-round draft pick by the Ravens but said he didn't become a force until Harbaugh arrived.

"Coach has made me a better player," Ngata said. "I definitely had my lazy moments before [Harbaugh became coach]. He demands your work ethic. He was a great hire for us. I can't imagine him ever demanding anything but our best and calling us out when we need it."

Harbaugh, who succeeded Brian Billick after the 2007 season, was hired from Andy Reid's staff in Philadelphia. He took the Ravens to the AFC Championship Game, which Baltimore lost to divisional rival Pittsburgh. The ferocity of that rivalry clearly drives Harbaugh and the Ravens.

"It's a great, great rivalry, and I just love to play them," Ngata said. "When the schedule comes out, I always mark it on the calendar. I can't believe we have to wait until Nov. 29 to play them. It sucks. You just know it's going to be physical, you know they're going to try and run the ball and then you still have to get to Ben [Roethlisberger] and take him down."

Flacco is confident he can duplicate what Roethlisberger did in his second year: win a Super Bowl. He said he knows Harbaugh's camp is aimed to prepare the team for a rigorous schedule, including two divisional games against the Steelers.

"When we play the Steelers, it's definitely a heated rivalry, and the biggest thing between the players is that it's such a physical game. We relish it," Flacco said. "We like to play physical football. It brings out the best in us and best in them."

And when practice isn't right on a hot summer day in training camp, it brings out the best in Harbaugh. Or worst, depending on your perspective.

Here's what else I learned at Ravens camp, the 15th stop on my training camp bus tour:

  • Flacco is known as "Joe Cool" for his low-key demeanor, but teammates say he's not afraid to hold them accountable for mistakes.

    "Yeah, in the right situation, I'm definitely more vocal than last year," he said. "I keep it within my personality, but I'm not afraid to speak up when it calls for it."

    Ngata on Flacco: "He's faster, faster making decisions, faster physically, faster everything. He really looks great."

    Flacco on Ngata: "He's 6-4, 345 and moves like he's 5-11, 200. He can do just about anything, and he's one of the strongest people I've ever met. I think he's the best defensive tackle in the league, and I don't feel like I'm going out on a limb saying that. He's unbelievable, to see the things he does."

  • Flacco believes aside from starting WRs Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, the key to his passing game is keeping three other weapons healthy: TEs Todd Heap and L.J. Smith and WR Demetrius Williams. "And, you know, we added Kelley Washington, and he's been almost too good to be true. Keeping him healthy is big for us," Flacco said.

  • Yes, Ray Rice is the lead running back -- and the team is expecting big things from him -- but the Ravens also say Willis McGahee has responded with his best camp since they acquired him in 2007. There's a sense the duo will give them more than 2,000 yards rushing.

  • Stepping in for LB Bart Scott, who signed with the Jets, is Tavares Gooden, another former University of Miami linebacker. The Ravens believe Gooden, who battled injuries last season, has the skills to match Scott once he learns how to use his exceptional speed.

  • As for the departure of defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, the Ravens are pretty confident with Greg Mattison running the show. One obvious reason is the talent GM Ozzie Newsome has assembled. It also was suggested the Ravens believe their front seven is so gifted that they'll take fewer risks in the secondary under Mattison, and thus give up fewer big plays.

    Chris Mortensen is a senior NFL analyst for ESPN.