By Nick Shook
Read full post on NFL.com
Much of the Ravens‘ struggles in the last few seasons has been due to injuries. Their injured reserve over the last three campaigns has included nearly 60 players combined.
Baltimore is making a concerted effort to change that in 2017.
The Ravens are channeling their health hopes through one man: director of performance Steve Saunders, who has one veteran raving and making bold predictions.
“I can guarantee you this: We will be the strongest, most in-shape Ravens team that this team has ever had,” safety Eric Weddle said, via ESPN.
Saunders’ program, which takes a micro approach to strength and conditioning, has swayed the majority of the Ravens to follow his direction. Instead of using broad strokes to prepare Baltimore’s players by relying on the mainstay exercises and drills, Saunders has crafted different plans for different players.
“As a football player, I do not need to run 100, 200 [yards],” Weddle said. “If I am running 100 yards, I should be cut. Because then I am getting beat. I do not need to be doing that. I need to be running 20, 30, 40 yards as fast as I can over and over and over at optimal energy and efficiency and speed. That alone is going to make us better.”
A Baltimore team that was in contention late in the season fell to Pittsburgh in a Christmas thriller (losing the division in the process) and out of the playoffs by season’s end, going 1-3 in its final four games. Baltimore was without top corner Jimmy Smith in the last three games of the season, something he’s determined to avoid in 2017 with the help of Saunders.
“I told my other trainer, ‘I am going to work out here a couple weeks and check it out and make sure,'” Smith said. “But, I am going to be here the whole offseason, just because of how good of a job he does with us.
“For me, it would be my legs, making sure I can do running and jumping and all that because of the ankle injuries and foot injuries,” Smith said when talking about what Saunders has targeted in his plan for the corner. “I think that he does a good job in giving me extra exercises to get that all situated.”
In six professional seasons, Smith has played in all 16 games in just two of those years. Perhaps he will serve as the barometer for how well the Ravens‘ offseason program works, though the list of those affected is much, much longer. After going a combined 5-7 in their final four games of the season over the last three years, health is paramount for the Ravens, who have spent much of the last two seasons wondering “what if?” instead of seeing the results of GM Ozzie Newsome’s roster construction.