Improved offense, same great defense on display

ON THE RAVENS

August 05, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

Scrimmages are about as worthless as the final preseason game. Even before the 11-on-11 portion of the scrimmage yesterday, starters such as linebackers Ray Lewis and Bart Scott and safety Ed Reed were standing on the sideline.

Their only competition was to see which one could get out of his shoulder pads the fastest.

In the case of the Ravens, they are a veteran team with few holes to fill. Ravens coach Brian Billick spent most of the day looking at the younger players, and it's clear the team has picked up where it left off a year ago in terms of being a serious contender.

You can't put too much stock into what happened yesterday, but at least you had a window to peep into before the preseason games start.

There is no need to worry about the defense, because that group is as good as it was a year ago.

One thing that stood out through the scrimmage was the balance on offense, especially in the passing game.

Starting quarterback Steve McNair and backup Kyle Boller were able to spread the ball around to receivers Derrick Mason, Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams and tight ends Daniel Wilcox and Todd Heap.

When the Ravens go to three- or four-receiver sets, they should be able to get mismatches.

The player to watch is Williams. He was fast as a rookie last year but has come back stronger and has a lot more confidence. The Ravens were hoping he could become their vertical threat before training camp started, and he has performed well.

On the O-line

Offensive tackle Jared Gaither, the rookie out of Maryland, started on the left side in place of Jonathan Ogden, and the kid was impressive. His enormous size can overwhelm defensive linemen.

He is stiff and needs to get better bend at the knees, but he has great potential.

There should be some concerns about right tackle Adam Terry. He spent too much time on the ground, especially in pass protection. His feet looked a little slow, and the Ravens have to keep an eye on him when the preseason games begin.

Passing grades

McNair and Boller were effective in running the offense, especially on short passes.

McNair, though, seemed to lose zip on his throws late last week in training camp, and he didn't have much on the ball yesterday when he had to throw more than 10 yards.

As for Boller, he had no fumbled exchanges with the center, and his footwork looked good. He seemed more comfortable than ever before in running the offense, especially in the middle of the field, but he still looks nervous inside the red zone.

Overall, he seemed more at ease.

Strike up the bland

Billick said the game plan for the Redskins would be vanilla, and it was for the most part. But the Ravens unveiled a new play. They ran a middle screen.

Yes, a middle screen. Now, we can't wait for the regular season.

For their next trick, the Ravens will run a play with crossing routes.

Short yardage

Running the ball in short-yardage situations could be a problem again this year for the Ravens.

Fullback Justin Green hasn't practiced in training camp because of knee problems, and rookie fullback Le'Ron McClain, out of Alabama, didn't remind anybody of Sam Gash yesterday. (You can't be a lead blocker with your head down.)

Again, it's still early, and both are fairly inexperienced, but the Ravens might want to check the waiver wire on the position before it gets too late.

Big Brown

Because he was 6 feet 7 and weighed 350 pounds, it was never hard picking out Orlando Brown when the former Ravens offensive tackle stood on the sideline.

It was even easier yesterday because Brown had on a very "loud" and very large yellow shirt (in case you thought that was Big Bird of Sesame Street fame standing on the Ravens' sideline).

Brunell in decline

Ravens fans will never admit it publicly because they remember when the Jacksonville Jaguars' Mark Brunell would often chew up the Ravens' secondary, but it's sad to see him playing for the Redskins.

Brunell's arm is erratic, and he couldn't break a window from 10 yards away with one of his passes. You need a calendar to gauge how long it takes him to throw a 5-yard out pattern.

Heir to McNair?

The battle for No. 3 quarterback will be interesting. Second-year quarterback Drew Olson looked a lot more poised than rookie Troy Smith during the seven-on-seven periods when Smith tried to force passes or threw behind the receiver.

But in the team period, Smith seemed to gain more confidence. It will be fun to see which one makes the roster, because Olson came recommended by offensive coordinator Rick Neuheisel, and Smith seems to be general manager Ozzie Newsome's guy.

Smith also has been anointed by Lewis as the successor to McNair.

Figurs outgunned

The worst idea of the day was having rookie receiver Yamon Figurs, he of the 175 pounds, playing gunner on the Ravens' punt team.

Two Redskins blocked him so badly down the Washington sideline that he didn't emerge from the Washington bench until a play later.

McGahee still learning

Newly acquired running back Willis McGahee rushed only four times for 9 yards in the scrimmage, and his longest run was 5 yards.

There were times when McGahee had nowhere to run because the Redskins were getting too much penetration.

According to McGahee, he's still learning the offense.

"It's just everything's not happening [as quickly] as I want it to," he said. "It's a learning stage for me and learning stage for all of us. It's getting used to the blocking scheme, how it's going to go down, who is going to do this, who is going to do that."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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