And Now, An Encore

Cam Cameron The Innovator Recharged The Offense

Now Can He Give It Another Jolt?

August 09, 2009|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,ken.murray@baltsun.com

In his first year on the job, Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron scored high in creativity, patience and understatement. He needed all three to coax an erratic, driver-less offense into the NFL's 21st century and help the Ravens reach the 2008 playoffs.

Who can forget the unbalanced line? A formation with three offensive tackles - often abreast - delivered the league's fourth-most productive running game.

Or the running back by three-man committee? Cameron took a fat, out-of-shape fullback in Le'Ron McClain, gave him the ball in the fourth quarter and pointed him toward the Pro Bowl. The previous regime saw McClain as only a blocker.

Then, of course, there was the rookie quarterback from Delaware and what used to be known as the NCAA Division I-AA. Joe Flacco won the job by default when Kyle Boller got hurt and Troy Smith got sick. Tutored exquisitely by Cameron and quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson, Flacco started every game, never panicked and navigated the Ravens into the AFC championship game.

A year after he got bounced in Miami for the Dolphins' 1-15 debacle, Cameron re-established himself in 2008 as one of the league's best offensive teachers, one of its most innovative play-callers and one of its most respected assistant coaches.

But quiz him about 2008 and he won't dwell on his successes any more than he would the defeats of 2007.

"One of the most rewarding things for me was [head coach] John Harbaugh being able to do that his first year," Cameron said. "I was just so excited to do everything I could - like everybody else - to get John that first win. And that is so important for a head coach to get his program established. And to go to the playoffs, that was the most rewarding thing for me because John is going to be a great head coach."

Under Cameron's steady hand, the Ravens' offense went from finesse to physical in one training camp. The ground game has always been the baseline of his system, a core value he learned from his early days under Michigan's Bo Schembechler.

"The first thing he did - and it was his goal - was to recondition our mentality offensively," wide receiver Mark Clayton said. "And I know that was accomplished. First and foremost for us, it was about being physical."

In Baltimore, the running game also served to protect the rookie quarterback. Cameron used it well.

Rotating McClain with former Pro Bowl player Willis McGahee and rookie Ray Rice, the Ravens rushed for 4 yards a carry and 148.5 a game. Their 592 rush attempts led the league, compared with 466 dropbacks, including sacks, by the quarterback.

In an era when most teams win by passing, the Ravens won by rushing.

So, what was so creative?

It wasn't just the unbalanced line, the diversified backfield or the new quarterback. It was the unpredictable play-calls Cameron made each week. There were lots of trick plays, lots of deep throws from Flacco, lots of motion before each snap, and a willingness to bring defensive players over to offense for certain situations.

In the same game that Flacco teamed with Demetrius Williams for a 70-yard touchdown pass, he also caught a 43-yard toss from Smith and scored on a 12-yard run. The Oakland Raiders didn't know which way to turn.

"He's not afraid to go out there and call some crazy trick plays and run something that's a little bit different," Flacco said. "Just because it's different doesn't bother him. He's looking for any way we can get an advantage, and he does a great job exposing that."

Cameron's credentials as an NFL coordinator are impeccable. When he joined Marty Schottenheimer in San Diego in 2002, he had LaDainian Tomlinson and Drew Brees. One overhaul and two years later, Tomlinson and Brees were the only starters left on offense and the remade Chargers were one of the NFL's most potent offenses.

For three consecutive years, from 2004 to 2006, they scored more than 400 points. In 2006, quarterback Philip Rivers went 14-2 as a first-time starter; and the Chargers led the NFL with 492 points.

For what it's worth, Cameron says the Ravens of 2008 were "way ahead" of where the Chargers started in 2002. Flacco went 13-6 in his first year and became the first rookie quarterback in history to win two playoff games.

Schottenheimer could well appreciate what Cameron did last season.

"I thought he did a terrific job," Schottenheimer said. "Came as no surprise. He did a similar job with Drew Brees' ongoing development. It was, I think, very representative of his quality as a teacher."

If the rage of the year was the Wildcat offense last season, listen to this:

"Cam was doing that in San Diego with LaDainian Tomlinson," Schottenheimer said. "He is a very creative guy. But the real essence of him is a parallel to Bo. He realizes he can do certain things to probe [a defense], but at the end, he will do whatever it is that your people do best. That's the essence of coaching: make sure you know what your players do best."

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