Finally, Fassel gets the call to direct Ravens' offense

ON THE RAVENS

With Fassel making calls, Ravens' offense has nice ring to it

August 03, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

What has become the most frequently asked question about the Ravens since they came to Baltimore 10 years ago has a definitive answer: Jim Fassel is calling the Ravens' offensive plays.

Finally.

It was mandated nearly eight months ago when owner Steve Bisciotti allowed Ravens head coach Brian Billick to return for the 2006 season, and has been on full display in training camp. The philosophies and principles basically remain the same, but it's Billick's show under Fassel's direction.

In a strange arrangement a year ago, Fassel called the plays except for inside the opponent's 20-yard line, where Billick took over. That didn't work either.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's sports section incorrectly reported that head coach Brian Billick calls the plays when the Ravens are inside the opponent's 20-yard line. Offensive coordinator Jim Fassel calls all the plays, but Billick can have input at any time.
The Sun regrets the error.

"You could say our relationship has changed," Fassel said about Billick. "We had a lot of meetings in the offseason to discuss how we would operate, and we spent a lot of time to make sure that we were on the same page as far as philosophies. In football, there is not really a right or a wrong, there's just a few ways to do it.

"We needed an offseason to clear up the overall picture," added Fassel, in his second year as the team's offensive coordinator. "We had some different ways of doing things, but we have a smooth operation now that I'm excited about. I'll call the plays."

The change was needed.

Since 1999, the Ravens' offense has been predictable, boring and unproductive. Calling the two-minute offense inept would be too kind. Last year, the Ravens were ranked No. 24 in overall offense, 21st in rushing and 22nd in passing. Of the team's 42 possessions inside the opponent's 20, the Ravens had only 16 touchdowns and 16 field goals, tied for the fourth-worst percentage in the NFL.

Going to Fassel was a logical choice. You can see the change of direction on the field. As part of the "new" Billick makeover, he spends more time as an overseer in practice, moving from position to position, observing and providing instruction, as opposed to previous years when he spent most of his time coaching offense.

Meanwhile, Fassel has more control. A year ago, he was in an awkward position working with both Billick and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel for the first time. All three have dominant personalities. A common joke around the Ravens complex last season was which one of them would suck the most air out of the room trying to out-coach the others in meetings.

"First of all, if we're to improve, I have to do my job better, and get other people to do their jobs better," Fassel said. "This season, I have to be more of myself, who I am and not worry about fitting in."

Stopping the Ravens in 2006 shouldn't be as simple as it was last year. A year ago, if you crowded the line of scrimmage, threw in a couple of run blitzes and played the receivers in tough man-to-man coverages, the Ravens were toast. If you stopped the running game, you stopped the Ravens, because Kyle Boller's erratic arm couldn't carry the offense.

New quarterback Steve McNair will make a difference.

"McNair has legitimate papers, which means he has played in this league and won," Fassel said. "He brings a confidence to everybody. Your defensive guys feel, `All right, we're going to be OK now.' Any time you go to the free-agent market, you want to bring in players who give your team hope. Players have to have hope, and it magnifies itself in the quarterback position.

"Steve has been awesome to work with," he added. "Sometimes when you pick up a marquee player, they make you feel like they are doing you a favor. With him, he's just another guy."

He is, but one who happens to be a good quarterback with experience and accuracy. Opposing teams won't crowd the line of scrimmage at the beginning of the season against McNair. This should allow the Ravens to get away from their predictable, two-back formation that usually means run.

Fassel wants to use more H-back and three-receiver set formations. He wants to throw on first down and run on third down. Imagine that, an unpredictable offense in Baltimore. The Ravens might become balanced after being downright dull for years.

"We're going to be multiple," Fassel said. "We want to be able to do everything. We want a high-tempo offense where people get up to the line of scrimmage, we snap the ball and get after some people."

The Ravens have weapons. They have possession-type receivers in Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton, even though Clayton can turn a short pass into a big gainer. With Mason and Clayton on the outside, Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap should be able to control the middle of the field. Fifth-year player Daniel Wilcox fits the description of a perfect H-back: good hands and just enough size to be effective as a blocker.

Halfback Jamal Lewis has to prove that he can bounce back from last year's disappointing season, but if he doesn't, Mike Anderson is behind him and Musa Smith is at No. 3.

McNair has played well so far in training camp, so the only question remains about an offensive line that performed poorly a year ago.

Unfortunately, the Ravens didn't upgrade the unit during the offseason.

"Our first game of the season is against Tampa Bay at their place, and they had the No. 1 defense in the league last year," Fassel said. `It's a major test for us right off the bat, and we have to be ready for the challenge. I look forward to it."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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