Pros on Sunday, but some vets don't buy in

December 02, 2008|By MIKE PRESTON | MIKE PRESTON,mike.preston.com

On Sunday, running back Willis McGahee stayed in his cape so long that you didn't know whether he was an active player or a superhero.

Maybe he is Underdog, because McGahee is apparently in coach John Harbaugh's doghouse again. The Ravens can try to paint it another way, but he is on what I call "The List."

It's a group of high-profile players who for one reason or another might not return next season. "The List" includes McGahee, Ed Reed, Chris McAlister, Todd Heap, Bart Scott and Samari Rolle.

Quite a few of them haven't bought into Harbaugh's system, and that's not surprising because Harbaugh is a first-year head coach whose mannerisms are very different than those of his predecessor, Brian Billick.

It is good, though, that - for the most part - the Ravens are able to put these differences behind them on game day, which is the ultimate show of professionalism. But if Harbaugh and his players want to salvage the immediate future and not have to endure what might be the beginning of a lengthy housecleaning this offseason, Harbaugh needs to huddle with his "mighty, mighty men" and open up some lines of communication.

It won't help with some of them. McAlister is beyond repair, and so is McGahee. But Reed, Heap, Scott and Rolle are good players and good people. They deserve to be heard before it's too late.

It's understandable for Harbaugh to have an edge. He comes from the old school. He was taught for the past 10 years by the great "Noncommunicator" himself, Andy Reid. But Harbaugh was also brought up under the Bill Parcells tree, and Parcells turned out such grumpy coaches as Bill Belichick and Nick Saban.

Nearly a month ago, Reed said Harbaugh needed to have more respect for his players and should learn to speak to them as men. Translation: Some of the players have said Harbaugh talks down to them.

To some extent, I can see that happening. Harbaugh had to come in mean and become a tough guy.

This is a transition year for him, and he is still finding his voice with the team. He preached tough, hard, physical practices in training camp but backed off them when it was necessary.

He might have to back up a little bit now, as well. But it's always easier for a tough coach to lighten up than for a laid-back coach to become tougher.

The Ravens' coaching staff has done a good job of handling McGahee. It has never given him the star treatment. One of the worst things that could have happened to this team was for McGahee to believe that during the regular season he couldn't be replaced by Le'Ron McClain or Ray Rice. He actually thought that at one time, which is why he reported to training camp out of shape.

McGahee showed a great work ethic to get into the NFL after having major knee surgery during his final season at Miami. But coaches questioned his work ethic during his final years with the Buffalo Bills, and the Ravens weren't pleased about his no-shows at various minicamps during the offseason.

Harbaugh has his reasons for putting McGahee on the bench, but he won't throw him under the bus, even though McGahee didn't play Sunday.

"We have a plan for Willis," Harbaugh said after Sunday's win over the Cincinnati Bengals. "He is going to be a big part of this team, no question about it."

Harbaugh has to walk a fine line with McGahee. His work ethic is questionable, but he has been a leader on and off the field for Rice and McClain. He has become their mentor and friend. Banishing McGahee to the bench for the rest of the season could present real problems.

Harbaugh will eventually get McGahee back into the lineup, and a fresh McGahee could do big things for the Ravens in the stretch run through December.

But when this season is over, he'll probably be gone, and so will McAlister. You expected the Ravens to lose some players because all of them weren't going to buy into Harbaugh's system.

But maybe the changes don't have to be so significant that they set the Ravens back for a few years.

Or do they?

Listen to Mike Preston on Mondays from 4 to 6 p.m. on Fox Sports (1370 AM).

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