Thursday, February 17, 2011

Mailbag: Why Not Al Saunders for OC?

Yesterday I posted a Q&A inspired by recent emails. I was accused of picking out only the softball questions by loyal site visitor Richie G from Dallas. He wanted answers to the following questions instead. He asked, so I’ll deliver…

Was Al Saunders ever considered as continuity replacement Cam - why not or, if considered, why was he not hired?

Organizationally the team is keeping mum on follow up questions regarding Cam Cameron and they are at least publicly showing solidarity in their support of John Harbaugh’s decision to keep the offensive coordinator.

No one will say what really went on behind closed doors when owner Steve Bisciotti confronted Harbaugh about the team’s lackluster offense but the guess here is that Bisciotti left that room demanding accountability. The result is as Bisciotti described, Cameron “under fire.”

I believe that the lack of a new collective bargaining agreement saved Cameron’s job. It’s tough to usher in a new coordinator not already familiar with the system when the players aren’t around vis-à-vis the expected lockout to help implement a new offensive philosophy. In the spirit of this way of thinking, Al Saunders’ name had to come up in those discussions between Bisciotti and Harbaugh because he has an accomplished resume and the transition could have been managed through a lockout.

This at least in part had to influence the Raiders’ hiring of Saunders who has familiarity with Hue Jackson from their time spent together in Baltimore. Good question and I’m sure that many Ravens’ fans will keep a watchful eye on the development of Oakland’s offense and compare it to the Ravens’ offensive development or lack thereof.

If Ozzie said the WRs did not have enough time to jell LAST year, how can they do so this coming year when it is highly likely there will be AT LEAST 2 new guys starting?

A lot of the gelling process takes place during OTA’s and training camp. It’s also important that the WR’s and Joe Flacco take snaps with the same unit when simulating live action.

In the case of Donte Stallworth, he was for the most part fourth on the depth chart and therefore didn’t run with the first team often during OTA’s and camp. That third spot was Mark Clayton’s. Stallworth’s injury put him further behind in the “gel department” and you’ve witnessed the results – 2 catches for 82 yards.

With TJ Houshmandzadeh, he was never in camp and his rapport with Flacco had to develop during the season and that is an uphill battle – not an insurmountable climb but a climb nonetheless.

For me, the team’s inability to get Anquan Boldin the football in the second half of the season is simply inexcusable and in some ways that had to be an embarrassment to Ozzie Newsome who gave up two draft picks and $28 million to get the physical playmaker. During the 9 games after the bye Boldin caught just 26 passes for 319 yards and 2 TD’s. And when the chips were down and the Ravens fought for that No. 2 seed in the playoff during the final four game stretch, Cameron could only get Boldin an anemic 8 catches for 67 yards – TOTAL!

Ozzie can’t look us all in the eye and say that was about gelling. That’s insulting to our collective intelligence.

Can Dickson & Pitta get any playing time (not counting special teams) soon?

The two tight ends are different kinds of players. Dennis Pitta in my opinion is more likely to give you the style of play we’ve grown accustomed to with Todd Heap. Dickson for me is a tweener – a player who is not really a prototypical tight end or wide receiver. He carries his pads well and has excellent speed for his size. In my opinion a more creative coordinator would find ways to get him the ball in space and allow his size to create mismatches much like New Orleans does with a similarly built player in Marques Colston.

How soon will this happen? Hard to say really. I haven’t seen Cameron trust the young guys very much and his control freak ways will have to change. Maybe he should look north towards another control freak who was able to get production from a pair of rookie tight ends in New England. That said, Tom Brady didn’t have the luxury of a Todd Heap nor does Cam Cameron have the luxury of Tom Brady.

Does Cary Williams have playing ability?

The Ravens say they like Williams and his willingness to hit and his size and speed suggest that he has what it takes to be a productive starter in the league. He is a very solid contributor on special teams and it will be interesting to see if his positional coach from last season (now defensive coordinator) Chuck Pagano, shows more confidence in Williams in the form of increased playing time.

Also if the Ravens take a pass on re-signing either Chris Carr or Josh Wilson, it could be Williams’ upside that influenced such a decision.

How could Ozzie have been caught so flat-footed re: the O-line and lack of quality depth?

The Jared Gaither injury absolutely caught them flat-footed and it left them vulnerable. Three players on the offensive line played out of position for an entire season as a result. These kinds of things happen not only to the Ravens but to many teams. Few if any clubs have starter quality offensive linemen waiting in the wings.

However, the team does not get a pass on using draft picks on O-linemen who never pan out. Oniel Cousins was a third round pick and David Hale a fourth round pick, both in the ’08 draft class. One is a proven bust and is no longer with the team. The other is on his way unless he takes to Andy Moeller’s coaching better than he did to the departed John Matsko’s.

Clearly, this is something that the team needs to fix.

Does Harbaugh have the guts to fire Cam if the 2011 offense is a clone of the 2010 offense?

He will have no choice. If the offense underachieves again and Harbaugh tries to dig in his heels in a manner reminiscent of Brian Billick with Kyle Boller, there will be an intervention by the team’s owner and Cameron will be gone.

You can count on that!

Thank you Richie G from Dallas!


Jerry B said...

Great "Blog", TL! Richie G. from Dallas is a long time personal friend who I introduced to your site. Your answers pretty much correspond to mine, but you carry the mantle of......."expert", which has been defined as: "an unknown quantitly ("x") coupled with a drop of water" ("spurt")! Seriously, you're right on the money most of the time and that includes this time. Last season's offensive failures, injuries, etc., notwithstanding, can be traced directly to the coordinator who either misused the talent at his disposal, failed to use it or, worse, didn't know how to use it! Frankly, I think it was a combination of all three, which is probably why he "managed" a 1-15 season as head coach in Miami.....

Anonymous said...

When you say "However, the team does not get a pass on using draft picks on O-linemen who never pan out," it definitely sounds like the Ravens consistently whiff on offensive lineman, but while they've whiffed on a lot, they've hit a solid number of times too. Certainly Ben Grubbs and Michael Oher were first rounders that appear like successes, but Marshall Yanda, Jared Gaither, and Jason Brown have all proved very solid players for the Ravens. I suspect you meant that they pick individual players who don't pan out, but I wonder what other team's 3rd round success rate is. Ours is pretty terrible, I would imagine, but I don't know that it's limited to OL.

The Ravens will definitely need to draft some young linemen this year to make up for the players we might lose.

Jerry B said...

Good point, Anonymous, relative to "O" lineman draft picks. You might have added Jonathan Ogden who was Ozzie's first pick ever, along with a guy named....Ray Lewis, both of whom are going to be enshrined in the HOF one day! He also has a pretty solid record for picking up free agents......