Veteran defensive end Calais Campbell said he gave considerable thought to opting out of the 2020 season, a move that would have been a major blow to the Ravens’ reconstructed front seven.
Campbell, though, said he was comfortable with the protocols put in place by the NFL and the players’ association regarding the coronavirus pandemic, so he reported to his first Ravens training camp last week, quickly immersed himself in the locker room — after passing his required COVID tests — and said he is ready to “dominate” alongside his teammates in the trenches.
Campbell, 33, a five-time Pro Bowl pick, was acquired by the Ravens for a fifth-round draft pick from the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this offseason and is viewed as one of the centerpieces to a revamped front seven. The Ravens also signed free agent defensive lineman Derek Wolfe, traded away defensive end Chris Wormley and drafted inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison in the first three rounds.
The moves clearly showed that the Ravens prioritized their defensive front after the Tennessee Titans and running back Derrick Henry bulldozed past them in the AFC divisional round playoff game, a stunning loss after the Ravens’ record-setting 14-2 regular season.
Campbell had 56 tackles and 6.5 sacks last year, and the Ravens hope he can neutralize the outside run and disrupt the passing game. He has 88 career sacks, including a career-best 14.5 in 2017.
Ravens veterans are not on the practice field yet as they slowly ramp up with conditioning work after passing their initial COVID testing. The first full-team practice is expected to be held Aug. 17.
For now, Campbell said training camp has been about getting to know his teammates in person after an offseason held entirely via virtual meetings and further understanding the schemes of defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, whom Campbell dubbed “a defensive genius.”
Campbell said he has been helping rookies such as Queen and defensive linemen Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington adjust to life in the NFL, and he has also quickly developed a healthy, competitive camaraderie with Wolfe, Brandon Williams and the other defensive linemen.
Speaking in a video news conference from training camp on Aug. 7, Campbell said, “Brandon Williams takes pride in being the best run stopper … in the league. That’s his mentality. I told him I pride myself on being the best run stopper in the game, too, so let’s go out there and dominate.”
Campbell was also asked about adjusting to the COVID protocols put in place for this training camp, and he revealed that he has a mild form of asthma and considered opting out of the season.
“I definitely considered it,” he said. “You have to. You can’t play football with this going on and not think about the risk you are going to put on yourself and your family.”
Ultimately, though, Campbell, who serves as a vice president of the players’ association, said “the risks were mitigated” as much as possible with daily testing, social distancing and other measures.
“You can’t get rid of the risks all the way,” he said.
Campbell also stressed that the union leadership was strongly in agreement that players need to be held accountable for violations of the league’s protocol or unprofessional conduct that could lead to positive COVID tests and endanger the season. According to an agreement between the league and the union, players can be fined for “high-risk COVID-19 conduct” such as going to indoor bars or concerts.
“All the players were pretty much unanimous in making sure there was some kind of consequence, holding guys accountable for when they made mistakes, purposefully made mistakes,” he said. “Obviously you want to live your life … but you can’t just go and put everybody at risk by doing something dumb.”
Through the initial testing phase that was required before players could even enter team facilities, the Ravens had just one player placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list, undrafted safety Nigel Warrior. According to league policy, players on the list either tested positive for COVID-19 or were in close contact with an infected person. Warrior has since been activated from that list and returned to practice.
A total of 69 NFL players opted out of the season by the Aug. 6 deadline, including two Ravens: tackle Andre Smith and kick returner De’Anthony Thomas.