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Connect Four, cornhole and winning: How the Ravens find locker room harmony with big personalities

Brian Wacker, The Baltimore Sun on

Published in Football

BALTIMORE — The Ravens locker room has housed its share of big personalities over the years — Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs, to name a few. This year isn’t much different when looking down the roster and to all corners of the expansive and mostly rectangular space inside the team’s sprawling practice facility in Owings Mills.

Tucked away in the back right corner of the room is wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s locker, next to that of eager and talented rookie receiver Zay Flowers. Quarterback Lamar Jackson, meanwhile, gets dressed amid a small bank of a half dozen lockers that juts out from the right about halfway into the room, with backup Tyler Huntley and offensive linemen Morgan Moses and Ronnie Stanley next to him. On the wall to their left are inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen and safeties Kyle Hamilton and Geno Stone. Just around the corner from Jackson is outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney. In the back left corner of the room, running back Gus Edwards is next to cornerback Marlon Humphrey, who is next to receiver Rashod Bateman, who is a couple of spots removed from outside linebacker Kyle Van Noy. The first locker on the right when entering the room, meanwhile, belongs to kicker Justin Tucker, who, as teammates are eager to point out, has less work to do than everybody else, so it makes for an easy in and out.

Players do not choose their own lockers and the layout of the room is not happenstance, a team official confirms. It is decided by coach John Harbaugh, with the idea of blending a group of disparate men into a homogenous sort of football feng shui.

“I was in the corner in other locker rooms; but this is the corner,” Beckham, who has played for the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns and Los Angeles Rams, told The Baltimore Sun. “It’s kind of a trapping feeling; it feels like you can’t get out. I’m not mad at it. I don’t mind it.”

He also has no problem fitting his stardom and ego into a room with no shortage of both. Jackson is a former NFL Most Valuable Player. Clowney is a former No. 1 overall draft pick. Humphrey is a former All-Pro with designs on a second career in media. Van Noy is a two-time Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots. Smith, an All-Pro, and Hamilton, a second-year star out of Notre Dame, are the vocal leaders of a defense that is perhaps the best in the NFL. Stanley is one of the highest paid at his position and often makes his way through the locker room cushioned by giant, fluffy slippers.

How does a group as vibrant as this and with that much individual acclaim all get along so harmoniously? Winning helps, a lot. The Ravens are 9-3 and have the AFC’s best record. So, apparently, do cornhole and Connect Four. Both games are as paramount as helmets.

 

Cornhole made its debut in the Ravens’ locker room in 2010 when defensive end Cory Redding introduced them to it. It offered a way to chill while also fueling their natural competitive nature, and it was at one time so popular that former quarterback Joe Flacco and ex-punter Sam Koch became members of the American Cornhole Association. When the team went to the Super Bowl during the 2012 season, their four cornhole boards made the trip to New Orleans, too.

While there is only one board in the locker room now, it remains a popular pastime among several players, including Jackson and Beckham, wide receivers coach Greg Lewis and even security.

Most players agree that Tucker is the best cornhole player on the team because of the rhythmic nature of his position and the extra time he has. “The thing about kickers is they’re always good at everything they do,” said Queen, who ranks himself third on the team behind Tucker and practice squad receiver Laquon Treadwell. “They’re weird people.”

“It’s more like we’re bonding,” Beckham said. “You see people [trash] talking each other, competing trying to elevate each other. I enjoy it. We got 5-10 minutes, we could sit here and talk [trash] and then we go out there and we’re locked in.”

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