Helping point the way

Neuheisel has more of a voice, but Ravens' offense still belongs to Billick

May 23, 2007|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,Sun Reporter

Rick Neuheisel was promoted to a new position at the end of last season, but his position on the field hasn't changed much.

During the Ravens' minicamps, the new offensive coordinator watches the execution of plays from the background, where he is usually talking to the quarterbacks. It's coach Brian Billick who has his head in the huddle.

That's why Neuheisel explained that his move from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator is "a little bit misleading."

"This is Brian's offense," Neuheisel said. "I might have been a corporal before and now I'm a lieutenant."

Neuheisel's primary role is to generate ideas for the offense, as well as be a sounding board for Billick. Neuheisel said his bigger title also gives him a bigger voice in the game plan.

But Billick, who will remain the team's play-caller this season, has always considered Neuheisel an influential part of the offense, even before he became offensive coordinator.

"I don't know that he can have any larger role," Billick said. "He has as strong a voice in what we do as any."

The Ravens experienced a midseason resurgence last year, when Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel on Oct. 17 and took over the offense. In the final 10 weeks of the regular season, the Ravens jumped from the 28th-ranked offense to No. 17.

Now, with the addition of running back Willis McGahee, the Ravens could have more different looks than previous years, from lining up in one-back formations to using screens.

The philosophy, however, will not be radically different. The Ravens want to produce more big plays, but not at the expense of turning the ball over and hurting their defense.

Neuheisel insisted that he isn't bracing the fan base for an offense that lacks explosiveness. He said the coaching staff is working hard to generate more big plays but within the structure of the offense.

Neuheisel often calls Billick the "architect of victory" because he knows how the offense best complements the defense, and vice versa.

"You don't need to take a bunch of chances on offense," Neuheisel said. "Sometimes that leaves your fan base wanting for bigger plays and an aerial circus. You don't need to do that."

But there's a lingering feeling of disappointment after the offense failed to score a touchdown in its last two games, including a 15-6 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Neuheisel understands that the knee-jerk reaction is to revamp the offense.

"That isn't the answer. The answer is how do we get better at what we do so we don't lay an egg against [Colts coach] Tony Dungy the next time we get a chance to play him," he said. "How do we best put ourselves in a position to take the next step, which is exactly what the Colts and the Bears did this year."

The bigger concern for the Ravens is their struggling running game.

The Ravens, who had a top-10 running attack in 2003 and 2004, plummeted to No. 25 last season.

"We want to have our running game back to where it was when it was a dominant running game in the league," Neuheisel said. "As much as all the good things Jamal Lewis did for our offense, we think McGahee can help us with that."

As for the game-planning, tight ends coach Wade Harman and offensive line coach Chris Foerster will continue to organize the running game and Billick will handle the passing scheme as well as the play-calling.

Neuheisel said he didn't feel slighted that Billick kept the play-calling duties.

"He really, really enjoyed it, calling the plays and getting ready for games," Neuheisel said. "He's at a point in his career where he's earned the chance to enjoy what he does. So who am I to say that shouldn't be the case?"

If Neuheisel can keep the Ravens climbing the offensive rankings, it could elevate his personal success, too.

Neuheisel was fired as the University of Washington coach in July 2003 - 2 1/2 years after leading the Huskies to a Rose Bowl victory and a No. 3 national ranking - for his involvement in an NCAA men's basketball tournament pool and for allegedly lying to NCAA investigators.

In March 2005, he received a $4.5 million settlement after it was revealed that the university's compliance office had sent out a memo that permitted the type of pool in which Neuheisel participated.

Now, entering his third season with the Ravens, Neuheisel finds himself on a road that could lead him back to being a head coach.

"As far as my career, I went through such a messy thing at Washington, I really hesitate to worry about the future. It's so unpredictable," Neuheisel said. "I think the key is to enjoy what you're doing. It doesn't mean that you don't want to be prepared for a chance again. I know I can do it. If I'm called upon, I'll be ready. But I want to enjoy the heck out of what I'm doing now."

Notes -- Nine starters missed the Ravens' second straight voluntary camp: linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs; cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle; safety Ed Reed; defensive end Trevor Pryce; nose tackle Kelly Gregg; offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden; and center Mike Flynn. ... Receiver Derrick Mason jammed his finger at the end of practice and likely will sit out today. ... The Ravens end their second minicamp today and will start their next one next Wednesday.

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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