Ravens don't have balance on offense — yet

Too many holes remain for Ravens to be equal threat running, passing

August 04, 2011|By Mike Preston

The Ravens offensive staff couldn't agree on much in 2010, but they reached a consensus months after the season ended. They knew they had gotten away from the basics and had to clean up the playbook.

One week into the 2011 season, it's apparent that the Ravens have modified their approach. The players have noticed a change, especially in offensive coordinator Cam Cameron.

"I would hope that it would be modified," second-year tight end Dennis Pitta said. "I think the mark of a good offensive coordinator is being able to modify your offense to the people that you have, and I know that Cam is capable of something like that."

Cameron is on the hot seat this season.

The Ravens had a 12-4 record last year and finished within a game of playing in the AFC championship. But that high-powered passing offense which featured three new veteran receivers never materialized, and the Ravens lost to Pittsburgh in the conference semifinals.

The Ravens eventually fired quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn, and allowed offensive consultant Al Saunders to become offensive coordinator for the Oakland Raiders.

They cut veteran Derrick Mason and tight end Todd Heap several days before training camp opened, and decided not to re-sign fullback Le'Ron McClain as well.

The Ravens still need a starting right tackle, a backup running back and quarterback. The hot seat keeps getting hotter for Cameron, even though he isn't showing it.

"It's early, and we keep getting better every day," said Cameron. "Because of what we lost, Joe Flacco has to make up for some of that. Ray Rice has to step up. Those young tight ends have to step up and Anquan Boldin has to keep improving and do more teaching. There are a couple of things we have to look at, and if the young guys aren't coming along like we believe they should, then we have some decisions to make.

"But right now, everyone is working hard because these guys know that this group can be something special."

This will be an uphill battle, but so far the Ravens have made the right decisions. A year ago, they had too many assistant coaches teaching their own styles instead of from the same playbook. It was evident on Sundays when TV cameras used to zero in on the blank stares from Flacco.

But the Ravens re-created their playbook. Cameron, criticized a year ago for not allowing the position coaches to have input, gave them a voice. The Ravens also did self-scouting and brought in outside coaches to evaluate.

Now, they're all teaching the same concepts with the same lingo.

"We threw out some things we didn't like, and kept the things we did," said Cameron. "Then we put in some new wrinkles, but overall, I think we trimmed it down 40 percent. We'll have to see later if we want to fill up that remaining 40 percent."

After Cameron, the rebuilding of this offense begins with Flacco. The two have had a strained relationship, but they both know that has to change if the Ravens want to succeed. Cameron is now Flacco's quarterback coach.

Privately, the Ravens would like for Flacco to become less sensitive to criticism. Without Mason around, he has to become the leader of the offense. So far, he has.

"He just seems a lot more comfortable with what they have him doing," said Boldin. "He's really taking charge. But he's our captain, he's our guy, so how he goes, we go."

Boldin, Flacco and Rice also had input in designing the offense. Right now, the Ravens are toying with a lot of different blocking schemes — zone, gap, man-to-man — and Cameron said a final decision will be made a week or two before the regular season begin.

But with the addition of Pro Bowl fullback Vonta Leach, it's safe to say the Ravens want to get Rice the ball in space with Leach as lead blocker. The Ravens might want to switch from more of a power blocking team to one with more finesse.

The Ravens are currently without a starting right offensive tackle. Rookie Jah Reid and fourth-year player Oniel Cousins will battle for playing time, but the Ravens will probably end up looking elsewhere.

"It's all technique, first and foremost. I don't think there are any magic plays," Cameron said. "I think our guys have got to work better in combination. Our combination blocking needed improvement. We're still in the early stages of finding out what kind of running team we are going to be.

"Three years ago, we started out trying to be a zone running team. We quickly switched gears to become a gap isolation team. We don't know what kind of running game we are going to have for another three weeks, but there will be some zone blocking in it. But, we will always keep man, draw blocking and gap schemes in place."

There are still some other holes to fill as well, like finding the starting tight end and another wide receiver. The Ravens have hyped rookie receiver Torrey Smith, the second-round pick out of Maryland. He has performed well so far in training camp, but he might not be the answer.

The Ravens want balance, and they'll probably sign another starting receiver before September 11, when they meet the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"You can't ever dictate how the game is going to go. Your game plan is to go out there just to win the game regardless of if you have to run or pass the ball," said running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery.

"But when you can put the two together … it puts the strain on the defense, because they don't know if you're going to run or pass. And when you've got someone of [Leach's] magnitude along with Ray Rice, and then you can put Anquan and Torrey out on the field, along with the young tight ends, it just makes it hard to defend when the runs and the passes look the same."

That's the goal. But right now, it seems so far away. It's still a dream.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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