Ravens' losses have been Jaguars' gains

On the Ravens

November 12, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

If you want to trace part of the Ravens' recent problems, look no further than the Jacksonville Jaguars, the opponent in tomorrow's game at Alltel Stadium.

Over the years, the Ravens have lost some outstanding coaches such as Marvin Lewis, Donnie Henderson, Mike Nolan, Jack Del Rio and such excellent personnel as the Modells, Phil Savage and James Harris.

Harris, the Ravens' former director of pro personnel, is now the president of the Jaguars. Along with Del Rio, Jacksonville's coach, the Jaguars (5-3) have a realistic shot of making the playoffs. After the Ravens, six of Jacksonville's seven remaining games are against Tennessee (twice), Arizona, Cleveland, San Francisco and Houston.

Calling it a cakewalk would be way too harsh.

The Jaguars owe a lot to Harris, who inherited a team with salary cap problems and transformed it into a club that could make its first postseason since 1999.

Harris has drafted such players as offensive tackle Khalif Barnes, receiver Ernest Wilford and quarterback Byron Leftwich. He also found a gem in cornerback Rashean Mathis, a second-round pick out of Bethune-Cookman in the 2003 draft.

Two No. 1 picks, receiver Reggie Williams in 2004 and receiver Matt Jones in April, have yet to pan out, but there is still a lot of time for development.

"James has a unique talent of being able to deal with different personalities," said Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, Harris' former boss.

"He always had a good rapport with scouts, coaches and administrators. Both sides could be straightforward. He also had a unique way of asking questions to make you think about an answer or decision you had to make. I knew he was going to do a good job."

Ravens coach Brian Billick and I aren't reading the same tarot cards. Billick is indicating he will return next season regardless of the team's record because he has two years remaining on his contract worth $4.5 million a season.

He says he's not looking over his shoulder despite a 2-6 record, but he should have his head on a swivel.

Word around the team's complex is that he's in trouble, deep trouble, and might not be able to get out. This is the second year he has underachieved despite the owner giving him a Pro Bowl wide receiver, a No. 1 draft pick who was one of the best receivers in college football, and new quarterback and offensive line coaches, as well as a new offensive coordinator.

And the Ravens still have the worst scoring offense in the league, and a locker room that is still in disarray from a season ago.

Signs of a coach in trouble are when the owner addresses players and when coordinators (see Matt Cavanaugh) are fired the previous year. Next up is the coach. Then a year or two later, it's the general manager if the downward trend continues.

Here are some words of advice for Billick: Turn it around in a hurry or duck.

The Ravens ought to turn third-year quarterback Kyle Boller loose over the second half of the season.

Forget the run control offense and the long, long, long shot at making the playoffs. Let Boller wing the ball as much as possible. Of course, they won't win that way, but at least they'll find out if Boller is indeed the quarterback of the future.

If Boller passes the test, great, then they're on to something. If he doesn't, cut him. The Ravens need to know by the end of the season if Boller is their guy or whether they might have to work a trade to sign a quarterback such as Philip Rivers or Matt Schaub, or draft one in the first round.

Please, please, God, don't let the latter scenario happen. Not again. Not this soon.

Anthony Wright's major problem this season was that he kept looking over his shoulder, wondering when Boller was going to return to reclaim his job. Wright should have concentrated more on playing instead of worrying about a situation he couldn't control.

As he continued to struggle on the field, you could see the frustration building. Last week, though, he made a big mistake. He got into an argument with Pro Bowl left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden. Two players you don't mess with on the Ravens are right offensive tackle Orlando Brown, because he might knock you into next week, and Ogden, because he is one of the best to ever play the game.

The dispute didn't lead to Wright's benching, but it did help accelerate the process.

Quarterbacks should never bite the hands that protect them.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Ravens@Jaguars Tomorrow, 1 p.m., chs. 13, 9, 1300 AM, 102.7 FM Line: Jaguars by 6 1/2

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