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Competition, Evaluation Heats Up As Colts Welcome Ravens To Westfield

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco (5) throws a pass under pressure from Indianapolis Colts defensive tackle Grover Stewart (90) during an NFL football game in Baltimore on Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017. The Ravens defeated the Colts 23-16. (Kirby Lee via AP)

WESTFIELD, Ind. — For the first 16 days of training camp practices — most of them in full pads — the Indianapolis Colts have been instilling a new brand of toughness that is up to the standard of new head coach Frank Reich.

But now, for two days at least, the Colts get to showcase their physicality against an opponent in a different jersey.

The Colts on Friday are welcoming the Baltimore Ravens to Grand Park Sports Campus in Westfield, Ind., for the first of two days of joint training camp practices, which will serve as a warmup to the two teams’ preseason matchup on Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium.

“I’m really excited,” Reich said. “My experience with joint practices is really off-the-charts good. Getting a chance to compete against other players and getting to see our guys against (them). It really helps us in the evaluation process more than anything.”

Other than the obvious advantages that come with 11-on-11 scrimmages against another team, the major benefit of joint practices is the chance for every player to get a different flavor in 1-on-1 drills.

To this point of training camp, the Colts’ offensive and defensive linemen pretty much know what’s coming from each other; same goes for the wide receivers and cornerbacks.

“In 1-on-1s, whether it be in pass-pro or in receivers, our guys get used to seeing – they know each other’s moves. They seem them,” Reich said. “So, to get to go against other talent, I just think helps the overall player develop, and see more things of what he is going to see, test out his abilities, gain confidence and it helps us as coaches to evaluate them.”

Offensively, the Colts are preparing to take on a perennial defensive power in the Ravens, who finished the 2017 season ranked No. 1 in the NFL in takeaways. With the likes of Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley and Eric Weddle returning, offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni is looking forward to the challenge.

“Ever since I’ve been in the NFL it’s just, ‘All right the Ravens are coming.’ You know what you’re going to get,” Sirianni said. “It’s strap your helmet up, be ready for a physical battle, and they know that you’re going to have some big boys up front. I know Suggs has been there for a long time, and he’s an animal. It’ll be a good test to get them in here and practice against them, just see different faces.”

On the defensive side of the ball, the Colts know they’ll have their work cut out for them. The Ravens feature three quality quarterbacks in Joe Flacco, the rookie Lamar Jackson and Robert Griffin III, while the team this offseason reloaded at the wide receiver position by adding Michael Crabtree, Willie Snead and John Brown.

“We will get a really good feel for it when the Baltimore Ravens are in here and then we play them during the game,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said when asked about evaluating his unit so far. “(We’ll have) a better understanding of where we are because again, you are playing against a whole other skillset and a different way of blocking the line. They certainly bring a lot to the table in terms of what they do offensively. So it’s going to be a big challenge for us.”

Keep your cool

With the physicality and the competitiveness ramped up for a practice setting, both sides are wanting to avoid letting any flared tempers lead to fighting between the teams the next two days.

Both the Colts and the Ravens — who already had joint practices with the Los Angeles Rams earlier in camp — have addressed that very topic with their teams.

“We will handle it in a professional manner,” Reich said. “We will each talk to our team and lay out the rules, and the guidelines and the expectations of how we are going to handle it.

“Frank [Reich] has done a great job, and his staff, of organizing, helping us organize it together. There’s been great communication,” Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. “We expect it to be very professional. We expect it to be all about football. We expect to go in there and take the opportunity to improve as a football team.”

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