No need to clean house, just redecorate

November 20, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

It's the time of the season that most NFL coaches would prefer to avoid. Being two games under .500 and facing a strong remaining schedule, the Ravens have to decide whether to play for the present or look to the future.

Ravens coach Brian Billick can mix and match from here on out and possibly find a winning formula, but the Ravens don't need a massive housecleaning job going into the 2008 season.

Actually, the Ravens (4-6) have a good nucleus of young players on both sides of the ball from which to build a strong foundation. The major problem will be finding a way to modify the offense. Once that is worked out, the rest appears easy as far as personnel.

The Ravens' current problem is a familiar one that has been around for nine seasons. There is little offense. Even though Billick has three years remaining on his contract, if owner Steve Bisciotti allows him to maintain the status quo for another season with this offensive system, then Bisciotti ought to fire himself.

There are no more illusions and no more smoke screens. We all know what Billick can and can't do. He can't call plays well or manage the clock. The Ravens can't develop a cohesive offense or a top quarterback.

The offensive system, not the team, needs to be overhauled, or history will repeat itself. It would make no sense to pick a quarterback high in the first round of the draft to put him in a position of almost guaranteed failure.

But once the Ravens make a decision on the system, then everything else seems to fall into place. The Ravens need a young quarterback, one who can develop behind a promising offensive line.

The Ravens have great potential in young linemen such as guards Ben Grubbs and Jason Brown and tackles Jared Gaither and Marshal Yanda. Given time to develop, they might become as good as any in the NFL.

The Ravens don't have a legitimate No. 1 receiver, but they have a solid group in Mark "I Need to Be Tougher" Clayton, Demetrius Williams and tight end Quinn Sypniewski.

The Ravens don't need a running back. The Bills thought Willis McGahee had had his best days in Buffalo, but he has played well here and is under contract for a few more years along with rookie fullback Le'Ron McClain.

Defensively, the front seven is sound. Inside linebacker Bart Scott and outside linebackers Terrell Suggs and Jarret Johnson are in their prime.

Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is still a pup, and veteran tackle Kelly Gregg has a few good years left.

The Ravens are sound in the secondary with safeties Dawan Landry and Ed Reed. Cornerback Chris McAlister is in the over-30 club, but he can play safety for a few more years to extend his career.

It's a nice nucleus to mold, especially when you consider the three rookie linebackers the Ravens have in Antwan Barnes, Prescott Burgess and Edgar Jones.

There are going to be some salary-cap casualties, which was expected because the team was supposed to peak these past two seasons.

The Ravens might be saying goodbye to some veterans, such as quarterback Steve McNair, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, center Mike Flynn, wide receiver Derrick Mason, cornerback Samari Rolle and defensive tackle Trevor Pryce. Not all are playing poorly, but it's about the money.

I'm sure during the remainder of the season, Billick will be taking a look at some of the younger players. The Ravens aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they play a tough schedule that includes a trip to San Diego on Sunday, followed by home games against New England and Indianapolis.

The math adds up to one thing, but reality says another.

But regardless of how poorly the Ravens have played this season, it's not as bad as it looks when it comes to personnel.

There are other issues, such as problems in the locker room again. Some players who Billick thought were leaders are, in fact, problems.

But those are discussions for another day. The major issue facing this team is changing the offensive system. If Bisciotti doesn't force Billick to make changes, then we'll probably be back in this position next year.

If he asks Billick to change, and he won't, then fire him. If Billick does agree to go with another offensive system and/or coordinator, then that makes the entire offseason a lot more interesting and a lot less complex.

The Ravens need a quarterback, cornerback and receiver, but a major overhaul is not needed, except at the top or close to the top.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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