Behind closed doors, Ravens open to change

On the Ravens

December 27, 2005|By MIKE PRESTON

Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti hasn't spoken about the failed expectations of the 2005 season, but his front office staff deserves to be complimented for quietly moving in the background to try to rid the organization of any future problems.

According to league sources, Bisciotti's staff has been interviewing and evaluating the entire coaching staff as well as bringing in some players to provide input. There are some who oppose letting players have a voice in the process, but the locker room problem has been an area of concern for the Ravens for almost two years.

For this organization to move forward, a lot of areas have to be addressed. What do the Ravens do about Ray Lewis' self-isolation? How big are the money issues involving prominent players? Does coach Brian Billick need to instill more discipline? Are there still rules for star players as opposed to blue-collar players?

These are just a number of issues the Ravens need to address, as well as Billick's future and that of quarterback Kyle Boller. Last year, Billick tried to handle the locker room issue during the offseason by meeting with players such as Jonathan Ogden, Deion Sanders, Todd Heap and Kelly Gregg.

It didn't work.

Discipline problems still exist, and it was evident Sunday night when an angry Derrick Mason threw a ball down the field apparently after Billick declined to challenge whether Mason had caught a ball. Regardless of Mason's competitiveness and fire, no player should be allowed to show up their coach. It just brought back memories of the 21 penalties the Ravens had against Detroit earlier this season.

If these meetings are handled correctly, all the interviews should give Bisciotti, general manager Ozzie Newsome and president Dick Cass enough consistent information to make a proper assessment of Billick and his staff. If Billick is retained, then he should be able to improve his relationship with the players.

The Ravens have to address the Ray Lewis situation because he's no longer exalted in the locker room. He is adored by some players and not liked by others because of the preferential treatment. There has been constant grumbling about Lewis for years, some of it jealously over how many times he appears on the JumboTron and how many lockers he has. There are some players who aren't happy because he isn't currently with the team, even though team officials say his recent surgery doesn't allow that to happen.

Players have grumbled about how Newsome has reneged on certain contract deals and how Billick separates himself from the players, or is condescending to them. It's a locker room that started to tear apart last year and has gotten even worse this season.

But there has to be a way to bridge these gaps. It's a waste not to get this team to its top potential because the Ravens have a solid nucleus of talent.

Maybe that changes now. This is a chance for a lot of players to have a voice. Hopefully, it's just not the star players like Chris McAlister or Deion Sanders, but also guys like Bart Scott, Adalius Thomas or Will Demps.

Hopefully, the Ravens won't get carried away with the two-, soon to be three-game winning streak. It's great to see them score some points. It's great to be entertained at the stadium. But the reality is that the Ravens have had to struggle just to be 6-9. It's good to win against the Green Bay Packers and Minnesota Vikings, but that's not the top standard. The only team in the NFC close to it is the Seattle Seahawks.

Right now, there are eight or nine teams in the AFC better than the Ravens, and the most glaring difference between those teams and the Ravens is at quarterback. The AFC is loaded with quarterbacks such as Carson Palmer, Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady, Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. The Ravens counter with Kyle Boller, who has improved in the past two games but still isn't in that class.

Can receivers such as Mason and Mark Clayton make up the difference?

The Ravens have a lot of decisions to make. Billick has two years remaining on his contract. He started his career off strong in Baltimore, winning a Super Bowl in 2000, his second year. But there has been a slide the past two years. The Ravens have been to the playoffs only once in the past four years.

There are other solid candidates out there such as offensive coordinators Brad Childress of the Philadelphia Eagles, Cam Cameron of the San Diego Chargers and Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz. If Billick stays, he will likely make changes on his staff, some forced. The season doesn't seem as if it can end soon enough for quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel, who has been job hunting. Offensive coordinator Jim Fassel is also applying for other positions, but he shouldn't take any blame for the lack of offense this season because it's not his offense. There might be some changes in the secondary or on special teams.

Regardless, the Ravens are moving, not sitting around pouting about the year that could have been. You get a feeling they will make the right decisions. This season didn't turn out like it was supposed to, but overall the Ravens have had a pretty good track record. They're still one of the best organizations in the NFL.

They aren't making announcements publicly, but at least they're silently moving in the right direction.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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