REBUILDING THE Ravens will require at least two to three years, and this franchise couldn't have a much better coach in place to pull this off than Brian Billick.
Let's forget about any of his weaknesses today (just one day) and concentrate on his strengths: teacher, motivator and detail-oriented. For a coach who has 40 players under the age of 24 on the roster, he is ideal for the situation.
How about Mike Martz? Not very personable. Bill Belichick? Too anal retentive for such a young group. Mike Shanahan? Not a bad choice, along with Mike Holmgren and Tony Dungy.
But the Ravens are in just as good of hands with Billick. He was already gaining the psychological edge last weekend during the three day minicamp.
Forty-two of the 78 players on the roster were rookies. They made rookie mistakes. There were eight or nine bobbled snaps, another eight or nine fumbled handoffs and plenty of dropped balls.
But Billick didn't go Billistic. Expletives were very limited. His momma would have been proud.
The decibels will get turned up a few levels in training camp, but this won't be the same Billick fans saw in 1999 when he threw guard Mike Flynn out of the huddle twice in practice, or got in the face of receiver Patrick Johnson.
This is a different era, a different arena, but Billick is still comfortable, and can motivate players much in the same way as former New York Jets, Giants and New England Patriots coach Bill Parcells.
"The maturity level is different than the last couple of years, and I have to recognize that," said Billick. "I have to be more tolerant because some guys can't handle that tough talk, they don't respond to it.
"If I get after some of these young guys, embarrass them on the field, then I'll have to very quickly follow up with them going off the field or in a meeting," he said. "I'll put a warm and fuzzy arm around them, and tell the kid it's nothing personal, but this is the point I'm trying to get across. That it's all part of being professional."
Billick is really not a screamer. It looks that way on TV, but it's a lot of show, and calculated. Billick is Mr. Optimistic, a teacher and a planner. By now, he has calculated the blades of grass that will be on the training camp fields in July, and how many times Flynn will have snapped the ball two weeks into the season.
But that's what this wide- eyed, ambitious and gullible team will need. Billick will have a plan, and another one in storage. Don't, however, get the impression that Billick is so structured that he can't deviate, like a Dom Capers or a Tom Coughlin.
"It would be ridiculous to think that we could come back and do the same things we did last year," Billick said. "Now offensively, we're in pretty good shape, even though we lost a Qadry [wide receiver Qadry Ismail] and a Shannon [tight end Shannon Sharpe]. The basis of what we have, we shouldn't have to do a lot less offensively. In certain areas we may not be as good, or it may take us a while to get better.
"But Mike [defensive coordinator Mike Nolan] on the defensive side of the ball, well, he really has to adjust now," said Billick. "He needs to figure out just how much these kids can absorb. A lot of what we did last year were the keys Marvin [defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis] gave to the defensive line, like what a split backfield meant, what three wides and four wides meant coupled with down and distance. We got great anticipation from the veterans on that kind of knowledge."
The Ravens have always played hard for Billick. There was only one occasion where the Ravens actually quit, in the second half of the season finale against the Patriots in Billick's rookie year.
If he got the old dogs to hustle, imagine what he can do with a bunch of pups once he gives them that Us versus The World speech?
"He can adapt," said Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations. "That was a veteran team he had the last two years, and he gave them as much freedom as they wanted, and they always played for him on Sundays."
Billick still has some of those big-motor players around like middle linebacker Ray Lewis, outside linebacker Peter Boulware and defensive end Michael McCrary. Jonathan Ogden, Flynn and Edwin Mulitalo are still on the offensive line.
The coaching staff is still in transition, having lost Lewis, linebackers coach Jack Del Rio and secondary coach Steve Shafer during the off-season. Lewis and Del Rio were huge losses, but this turned out to be the perfect time for their departure with so many new faces on the roster.
They can implement their own style, their own terms. Like Billick, they will have to become teachers. But that's all part of the Billick style: teacher, motivator and detail-oriented. Very seldom does he reach into a player's soul and come up empty.
There are some things to not like about Billick's coaching ability, but not in this situation. The style is very conducive to rebuilding.