Hot seat shifts

ON THE RAVENS

Bouncing ball of responsibility lands in GM's lap

On Ozzie Newsome

January 15, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON

Whenever an injured player goes down, the Ravens like to use the term "the next man up." At the team's training facility in Owings Mills, the next man up is general manager Ozzie Newsome, followed closely by owner Steve Bisciotti.

The Ravens' troubled offense during the past nine years has led to the dismissal of offensive coordinators Matt Cavanaugh and Jim Fassel and the recent firing of head coach Brian Billick.

It's Newsome's turn on the hot seat.

If the Ravens can't correct their offensive problems with a new head coach, then Newsome is the next man on the food chain.

Billick deserved to be fired Dec. 31 for an inept offense that eventually tore apart the team. Critics said Billick's offense was too conservative, but there is a better term. It was dysfunctional, and it became time for Billick to move on.

But, at the same time, had Newsome been more assertive, you have to wonder whether Billick would have been more successful. In other words, instead of just riding on the bus, maybe Newsome should have driven it.

There is a fine line that separates the duties of a coach from those of a general manager. In theory, the GM puts the team together and the coach does his thing on game day.

Newsome and Billick worked well as a team, but there were times during the past nine years when Newsome should have asserted himself more.

For instance, after Billick struggled early in his tenure with judging quarterbacks, there is no way Newsome should have allowed him to mortgage the team's future by drafting Kyle Boller in the first round in 2003.

Instead, he allowed Billick to dig a hole for himself, the kid and the franchise, because most general managers allow their head coaches to pick quarterbacks.

But Newsome isn't like most general managers. He is a fierce competitor and former NFL great who commands respect because he is in the Hall of Fame. There is great reverence for Newsome at the Castle.

He has a lot to offer players but rarely does. When Ray Lewis openly criticizes his coach or Jamal Lewis gets in trouble, that's a good time for Newsome to share his experience. That's not in the GM handbook, but it could be a way for Newsome to put a personal touch on the job.

Newsome has always been the type to sit in the background. He doesn't want praise, and criticism doesn't bother him. He's basically a guy who just wants to watch film, evaluate players and make roster moves.

That worked in previous years, but not anymore. Just as Cavanaugh was Billick's shield for years, Billick ran interference for Newsome.

Now, Newsome's time has come. He's under the microscope, and it starts with the new coach and then the draft. There have been few complaints about the Ravens' drafts since they moved to Baltimore in 1996. Almost every other team in the NFL would like to have Newsome's record.

But there are other questions. Why hasn't this team been able to draft a talented wide receiver? It has drafted two in the first round, but Travis Taylor is no longer in the league and Mark Clayton, the Ravens' No. 1 pick in 2005, disappeared in games this season.

Why hasn't this team been able to draft a franchise quarterback? Also, why hasn't this team been able to succeed long term with journeyman quarterbacks? Was it Billick's fault or Newsome's fault, or were the quarterbacks just over the hill?

Overall, the Ravens have plenty of depth and a solid nucleus of young players, but who scouted those reserve cornerbacks that played this season? They were terrible.

As the Ravens were staring into the abyss this season, losing game after game, there was no leadership. Billick lost control of the players, so he was just providing lip service when he talked. Newsome couldn't talk because he wasn't the owner.

The owner was nowhere to be found for a while, but he wasn't going to say anything until the end of the season. He has said he doesn't want to be a meddlesome owner.

Quite frankly, in the middle of the losing streak, Bisciotti should have stood up and addressed the fans. The problem with Newsome and Bisciotti is they mistake being nosy with showing interest.

Ravens employees want them to get more involved. They like it when they intervene and put their stamp on this team. This is the perfect time. With Billick gone, it's time for a new face to be put on this organization.

And with a new coach coming to town, ready or not, it starts with Newsome. He's the next man up.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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