| McGahee is the foundation of an attack that will be more run-oriented.
|Ed Wolfstein/Icon SMI|
14 at Houston
29 at Pittsburgh (M)
12 at Indianapolis
19 at Miami
2 at Cleveland
16 at N.Y. Giants
30 at Cincinnati
20 at Dallas (Sa)
Jared Gaither, Left tackle: When you replace Jonathan Ogden, who retired and is likely bound for Canton, you're going to be under the gun. The 6' 9", 330-pound Gaither, a second-year player, shows quick feet and forces pass rushers to take a wide route to the QB. Says offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, "I like his mental toughness, his calmness under pressure."
A beleaguered offense turns to young players for salvation, picking up the tempo and looking the defense in the eye.
Good news for Ravens fans: The offense is tired of getting sand kicked in its
face. At least that's what linebacker Ray Lewis noticed during a scrimmage in
training camp, when he dropped a few intimidating sound bites on rookie
quarterback Joe Flacco while the kid shouted signals. In return Flacco, the
team's first-round draft pick out of Division I-AA Delaware, shot Lewis a
what-me-worry stare and ran the play -- and completed the pass. "I like the kid,"
Lewis says. "Smart, humble, confident. He doesn't back down."
In nine years under former coach Brian Billick, the defense routinely
overpowered the offense in camp, crowed about it, then outperformed the offense
during the season. Considering that Billick was originally hired for his
offensive know-how, the constant smackdown was perplexing. New coordinator Cam
Cameron, backed by first-year coach John Harbaugh, came to town with a chip on
his shoulder, and it showed during spring and summer workouts. But make no
mistake: Defense is still king. "These are the most physically demanding
practices I've ever been a part of in my 25 years of coaching," Cameron says.
"We want to play offense the way they play defense -- smart, physical,
It's probably a good thing that so many of the key offensive
components -- Cameron, Flacco, second-year quarterback Troy Smith, second-year left
tackle Jared Gaither, rookie running back Ray Rice -- all have been Ravens for 17
months or less. They haven't been immersed in the defense-is-God mentality that
pervades the franchise. Harbaugh has done his part, preaching unit equality and
rearranging lockers so that the defensive players aren't separated from their
offensive brethren. But he also knows the offense has to earn
"The phrase the guys on offense are using is, 'Little brother's not backing
down anymore,' " Harbaugh says. "It's not about the offense versus the
defense, and we're not going to have any 'We lost this game because of the
offense' grumbling. That's a place to hide, not a solution. At some point we're
going to be a great offense. I don't know if it's going to be by opening day,
Week 3 or Year 3. But until then all three phases of this team are
going to pick each other up."
During camp the coaches increased the tempo. In every offense-versus-defense
drill, Cameron had the play clock running, and during one 10-play drive led by
Smith every snap came with at least 10 seconds left on the clock. "We want
to pressure the defense," Flacco says. The only way to do that is by moving the
chains, and to do that Smith and Flacco have to be more accurate than their
predecessors. Under Billick the Ravens ranked in the top 10 in the league
in completion percentage only once. "It's all about recognizing the defense and
being fast at this level," says Flacco. "I need to make decisions quicker, which
is why it's good for us to be playing at such a fast pace."
Says Cameron, "I've seen the play clock strangle young quarterbacks. We're
going to train them to play fast so it doesn't."
The foundation of the new offense is a renewed emphasis on the run -- at the
least, rushing on more than 43% of the snaps as Baltimore did last year in going
5-11. Willis McGahee may match his 294 carries of 2007, but this season he'll
get help from a No. 2 back. Rice, a second-round pick who had
715 carries over his last two seasons at Rutgers, could be on the field 50%
of the time in single- and two-back formations. "At the tempo we're going to
play," says Cameron, "you've got to have two good backs stay fresh. Ray's so
much better than we thought on draft day. His route running, his hands, his pass
protection all complement his running."
The only way Baltimore contends for a playoff spot is if McGahee and Rice can
carry the offense until one of the young quarterbacks gets settled and, of
course, the defense remains formidable. -- Peter King