OWINGS MILLS, Md. – The Washington Commanders offensive line and Baltimore Ravens defensive front were doing a two-on-two drill to mimic pass-rush stunts Wednesday when things went sideways.
A Commander and Raven went to the ground, and some shoving on the way up devolved into a full-blown fight involving dozens of players from both sides. Ravens defensive tackle Justin Madabuike was in the thick of it all, as was linebacker Odafe Oweh. Players from other position groups doing their own sessions sprinted toward the scene to break it up.
Commanders offensive lineman Nolan Laufenberg, a second-year guard from Air Force, was one of the players on the ground.
“It went on forever,” Laufenberg told USA TODAY Sports. “I was just trying to pull people off the pile. Sometimes, you end up on the ground.”
Ravens nose tackle Michael Pierce walked away from the skirmish with a limp, though he did finish practice. The fight came one day after Washington rookie cornerback Emmanuel Forbes and Baltimore wide receiver Tylan Wallace exchanged blows that led to both sidelines rushing to their guy’s defense. But the temperature was cooler on the lines, Laufenberg said, on the first day.
“I mean, it’s a joint practice, two different teams. You’re going to get a little hot-headed,” Laufenberg said. “Today, it just kind of came out of nowhere a little bit, I thought.”
The animosity brewed for the rest of practice, and the units squared off again a few plays into the 11-on-11 portion of practice. By that point, coaches gathered both units and implored them to keep it cordial, and for the second half of practice, both teams were on their best behavior.
“You got to calm everyone down in those situations,” Laufenberg said.
Over two days, the Ravens and Commanders showed that for any NFL team working alongside another, the joint practice is a summertime double-edged sword.
The enhanced competition and quality of practice are undeniable, players and coaches say, while offering starters another alternative to mimic game-like reps without participating in a preseason game. The downside? Someone is going to give an extra shove or an unleash a wayward fist, and dust-ups are inevitable.
“You still get a lot of great work without the ‘finish’ part of it. You don’t get the tackling, the sacks – those kinds of things,” Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Tuesday.
But contact during joint practices is always a gray area and can lead to the pushing and shoving that precedes a potentially more serious encounter. Green Bay Packers offensive lineman Elgton Jenkins punched Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle D.J. Reader in the head during an Aug. 9 joint practice, marking his second skirmish after an earlier flare-up with Bengals linebacker Germaine Pratt. A coach escorted Jenkins off the field after the incident.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wideout Mike Evans, entering his 10th season, said he’d never seen as many fights during a joint practice than the one his team completed with the New York Jets on Wednesday. One day earlier, Jets coach Robert Saleh canceled the second day of scheduled action between the two teams, citing concerns about potential brawls.
“I like one (practice) from a safety measure standpoint. I never like two practices because the second practice is usually when the injuries happen,” Saleh told reporters. “Then the second practice is when the team that knows they kind of got beat, they go into their meeting rooms and the coaches are yelling at them, and then they come out and they play with a little more edge, and it pisses each other off and all the melees happen. So I just think the second day is very unproductive, except for trying to be reactionary to getting your butt kicked the day before.”
Said Commanders wide receiver Terry McLaurin: “It’s just guys competing. But at the end of the day, we want to look out for each other’s careers and make sure we’re not doing anything that’s too over the line.”
For some players, the extracurricular activities are just that.
“I’m here to get better, bro,” Washington defensive lineman Daron Payne said. “I don’t really know anything else.”
Not taking anything personally is how Commanders coach Ron Rivera instructed his team to deal with any additional emotion over the two days at the Ravens’ facility.
“This really is not about me against you,” Rivera said Tuesday. “This is about us trying to develop and work together as teams.”
For Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who is set to be sidelined by foot surgery, joint practices are actually better than preseason action.
“It’s much harder to tackle without going to the ground,” Humphrey said, “and you’re covering elite guys every single play.”
Still, joint practices will always present a challenge, Harbaugh said, because two teams are competing against each other
“And there is a lot of pride,” he said.