Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Ravens need to get their best players on the field more

One of the things that I criticized Brian Billick for throughout his tenure as Ravens’ head coach was his knack for coaching with fear. He refused to take calculated risks and was far too concerned about injuries to his players. Injuries are part of the NFL. There’s no way of avoiding them. Sometimes teams are fortunate like the Ravens of 2006. Other times teams aren’t so fortunate like the Ravens of 2007.

Teams have to prepare, practice hard and play harder and hope that through effort and preparation they remain healthy.

And hopefully get lucky.

Somewhere along the line Brian Billick thought that he could manage that luck. He attempted to stave off injuries by maxing out on creature comforts for his players. He also chose to align his players in positions that they were most familiar with, again in part to protect against injury.

Meanwhile other clubs used the unique athleticism and intelligence of certain players to benefit their teams even if the surroundings for that player were somewhat unfamiliar.

One player who comes to mind is Mike Vrabel of the New England Patriots. Vrabel often lines up as an additional tight end and has developed a knack for sitting down in the right area of the end zone to provide Tom Brady with a window of opportunity and the result is often an easy touchdown. Dallas employs Terrell Owens’ ball skills in the prevent defense to guard against successful Hail Mary attempts by opponents at the end of either half. Julius Peppers has seen time as a tight end. Defensive tackles around the league see time at fullback or tight end in jumbo packages designed to move the chains or score in short yardage situations. Warren Sapp comes to mind.

Yet the Ravens avoided that temptation (assuming there was one) under Billick, preferring instead to take the safe approach and not risk injuries, turnovers or both. That is the approach of a defeatist.

And that is an approach that apparently John Harbaugh will not subscribe to.

During mandatory mini-camp practices that recently concluded, Haloti Ngata lined up at fullback. Those who have seen Ngata practice know that for a man of his physical stature he is very nimble afoot. What linebacker would want to take him on as a lead blocker during a rush off the edge?

The Ravens had Adalius Thomas for years – a man who could stand under the basket and dunk backwards. He could run a 4.6 at 270 pounds. He had soft hands. You know where this is going.

What Raven would you like to see most with the ball in his hands in the open field? Think about it, what one player wearing purple makes more game breaking plays despite his limited touches?

For me that player is Ed Reed. His presence alone on offense would raise the suspicion of opposing defenses. Decoy? Perhaps, but think of Reed on a quick flanker screen. The NFL is all about putting your best players in position to make plays. If mini-camp is any indication, then you might see some of your favorite Ravens defenders on the other side of the football doing whatever they can to score points. And that’s exactly how it should be.

Although I bet John Harbaugh won’t stand for all of those schoolyard laterals that Brian Billick used to pass along as Ed Reed being Ed Reed.

And isn’t it about time?
Photo by Sabina Moran