Offense tries to make move

Ravens

Cameron wants unit to stand on own with 'unpredictability'

July 19, 2008|By Edward Lee | Edward Lee,Sun reporter

When the Ravens' offense and defense clash in training camp next week at McDaniel College, football won't be the only game in play.

When an offense built by Cam Cameron and a defense molded by Rex Ryan tangle, the result is a battle of wills.

"It's like an ultimate chess match," said Ryan, the team's assistant head coach and defensive coordinator. "He'll move a piece, we'll move one and vice versa. You're always going back and forth, and it's a great challenge for us every day in practice, and I'm sure he feels the same way. It's been great."

In the franchise's best and worst years, the offense has typically lacked the complexity - and the success - of the defense. Cameron wants his unit to compete on equal terms, and he said he's trying to emulate his defensive counterpart's philosophy to do that.

"He'll have plays where the linebacker is the free safety, he'll have plays where the nose guard is the linebacker, he'll have plays where the corner is the safety," Cameron said of Ryan. "What we've also tried to do is get more and more guys on offense that can play a variety of positions. For example, tackles that can play tight end; tight ends that could play tackle; guards that can play center; wide receivers that can come in the backfield; running backs that can go out and play wide receiver. I think that in itself leads to your ability to try to create some unpredictability."

Cameron's reputation for constructing potent offenses is based on his five seasons as offensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers.

The Chargers ranked in the league's top 10 in rushing each season between 2002 and 2006. San Diego scored at least 400 points in each of the final three years. And the offense ranked in the top 10 in total yards between 2004 and 2006.

Hank Bauer, a former Charger and the current analyst for San Diego's flagship radio station, said Cameron's philosophy is an updated version of schemes installed by then-San Diego coach Don Coryell and then-Washington Redskins coach Joe Gibbs.

A Cameron-run offense features sending players in motion before the snap to force the defense to move and change personnel, Bauer said. Ultimately, the goal is to catch the opposing defense with the wrong personnel on the field.

"It's about creating mismatches," Bauer said. "It's a flexible offense."

Despite Cameron's penchant for frequently rushing LaDainian Tomlinson, Bauer contended that the offense should strike a balance between the run and the pass. "Air Coryell," the moniker attached to the former Chargers coach's potent attack, actually ran the ball 48 percent of the time, Bauer said.

Although he concurred with Bauer, Cameron pointed to the offensive line as the critical cog.

"There comes a point in time of every game where you have to run the football and your offensive line sets the stage for the running game - no matter who your runner is," he said. "They bring a mentality, they bring a toughness. When you're in Cleveland late in the year or in Pittsburgh or in Cincinnati playing for the division championship and it's snowing or it's raining or it's a little bit of both, we want our offense to have an offensive-line mentality. So when we say it starts with the offensive line, it's more than just a physical thing. It's a mind-set, and they have to bring a toughness and an unselfishness that I think all great offensive lines have."

Jim Harbaugh, the 15-year NFL veteran and current Stanford coach, played his final three seasons at the University of Michigan with Cameron as an assistant coach and watched much of Cameron's work with the Chargers during Harbaugh's two years as the quarterbacks coach for the division-rival Oakland Raiders in 2002 and 2003.

Harbaugh, brother of Ravens coach John Harbaugh, said he was most impressed with the way Cameron adapted his alignments to fit the talents of his players. When Cameron coached at Indiana, he created a system that helped Antwaan Randle El become the first player in NCAA Division I-A history to record 6,000 passing yards and 3,000 rushing yards. Randle El also became the first to pass for 40 touchdowns and run for 40 touchdowns.

"And when he got to San Diego with LaDainian, the power showed up, and he was able to run the ball effectively," Harbaugh said. "I think the thing that's kind of been very positive is the way he was able to use the offensive personnel to adapt to his system to take advantage of the talents of those who played in it."

Cameron said he tries to put players in positions that maximize their strengths.

"It's about taking what a guy does best and asking him to do it," he said. "Some people look at that as unpredictability. To me, you're really coming from a different angle."

Only time will tell whether Cameron can work the same kind of magic with the Ravens. He won't put limits on the offense's potential.

"It's early, it's the offseason," he said. "I think every team in this league is hoping to be great, and we're no different."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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