Without question, the Ravens offensive line is positioned squarely under the microscope and it will be monitored closely this season. A repeat performance of 2005 by the O-line will not deliver the results that the Ravens are hopeful of or even capable of. A repeat performance of 2005 will deliver pink slips for several players and coaches if this unit doesn’t get it turned around in 2006. We know it, you know it and so do they.
I’m happy to report that both desperation and pride have helped to redefine the collective work ethic of this unit thus far in OTA’s and to a man, they are anxious to see how this projects to the field of play.
Offensive line coach Chris Foerster has been working his unit perhaps more ferociously than any other unit on the team. He has stressed fundamentals – from punch blocking drills to footwork drills; from an emphasis on spacing to the effectiveness of the double team in a zone blocking scheme. In their little corner of the field closest to the palace, the grass has worn thin, more so than any other area on the field. It is reminiscent of an area of a driving range where iron shots are practiced.
The purple jerseys of the offensive linemen are a shade darker than the other players. Of course their size plays a role but the energy exerted is purposeful and Foerster’s coaching is more determined and forceful. Some rise up to a challenge. Don’t be surprised to see this unit do exactly that.
With this in mind, I consciously focused on the offensive line a bit more today. Coincidentally, so did some of the team’s defenders who gave C Jason Brown a significant amount of attention.
The players did not wear their shells today, opting to go without pads. Yet despite the missing shells, the physicality in the trenches seemed to be a bit more intense today and that could be the result of the O-line’s elevated focus and determination.
A determined Jason Brown sent blood pressures boiling. Mike Smith tussled with Brown for an extended period. Kelly Gregg intervened and then joined in the skirmish with Brown. Jarrett Johnson slapped Brown’s helmet while Brown was entangled with Smith and then had Brown in a headlock while Brown was somewhat defenseless.
Both sides intervened to calm things down.
Or so they thought!
On the very next play, Brown and Smith were at it again and this time the two wrestled on the ground. A couple other defenders joined in until Brian Billick came along to end the circus act. Billick vehemently chastised his team and told them if they didn’t want to play football or use their heads, they’ll run. He sent the team to the sidelines and proceeded to make the entire team run gassers.
Fast times at Winning Drive!
Derrick Mason ran each gasser hard and was out in front of the pack. Ironically Jason Brown trailed behind everyone. While running, Mason commented that “If you can fight, you can run.” Every day, Mason asserts his leadership a little more.
After about 8 gassers, Billick was heard telling his team that they will lose games in different ways but that this (internal fighting) will not be one of them.
Somewhere in a dark corner of the coaches’ locker room, Chris Foerster must be smiling.
Prior to the practice ending skirmish, Foerster ran his troops through zone blocking techniques whereby the guard and center double team a tackle or a guard and tackle doubling down the same way. The double team is the key according to Foerster initially in the Ravens zone blocking. The outside blocker releases from the double team at the appropriate time, and picks up a man on the second level, primarily a linebacker. During the live scrimmaging Foerster stopped play at one point to test the line on their assignments and to remind the fullback which man inside the box he is responsible for. The FB at the time was B.J. Dean.
One of the line calls was “Ace 33.” One of the blockers is responsible for the backside “ace.” You may recall last year that opponents positioned a safety out on the backside of the Ravens zone blocking to prevent cutbacks. “Ace 33” could be the answer to help put a body on the "ace."
Tony Pashos was praised for his technique and proper angling and Jason Brown, prior to the skirmish was stout and very strong in short spaces.
Notable no-shows to the voluntary OTA’s were Adalius Thomas, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Jonathan Ogden and Trevor Pryce….Haloti Ngata and Demetrius Williams are unable to practice until their class graduates on June 16….Ray Lewis was on the sidelines during stretching. He was involved in a rather animated discussion with Brian Billick and later he was seen conversing with Steve Bisciotti before leaving the field and into the building….Mike Flynn and Clarence Moore watched practice but neither participated….Chris McAlister was in attendance but did not practice….Alan Ricard did not practice.
Steve McNair had a better day today than he did yesterday and it appears as though he and Derrick Mason have hardly skipped a beat in their mutual understanding of each other. The unspoken communication between these two is something that hasn’t been seen in these parts since Bert Jones to Roger Carr connection of the mid 70’s. Today it was evident on a pass play in the red zone that initially looked like a route to the post. McNair seeing that defender Duvol Thompson had inside coverage on Mason, threw the ball over his receiver’s outside shoulder towards the back cone. Mason adjusted and caught the TD pass. The result brought a smile to the face of Brian Billick who kiddingly said to Mason, “that’s just like we drew it up, huh?”
Overall McNair seemed to throw with much more authority today, particularly on passes when he knew where to go with the football. Those plays where he’s feeling his way through seem to cause some minor problems with footwork and in such situations, his ball falls short. That happened once today when McNair tried to utilize his safety valve Jamal Lewis flaring out of the backfield.
During break out drills, Rick Neuheisel put McNair, Kyle Boller and Drew Olson throw the paces, directing the trio to drop back, pivot and roll to their left. Of the three, McNair handles that throw best while fluidly squaring his shoulders to the line of scrimmage.
Kyle Boller maintained the bounce in his step that he found during the second half of Tuesday’s practice. His passes were crisp and generally on target except for a pass he tried to squeeze in on his first snap in 11 on 11 drills. He stared down his intended receiver and his pass should have been picked off by Corey Ivy who couldn’t find the handle on Boller’s fastball.
On another pass to Tres Moses running a streak along the right sideline, Boller threw his pass intentionally behind Moses to allow him to come back to the ball seeing that Evan Oglesby was stride for stride with Moses. The WR from Rutgers made an excellent adjustment and catch. He’ll be one to watch in August.
Olson threw decently. He was left to run through drills with McNair and Boller while QB’s Sonny Cumbie and Brian St. Pierre were pulled by Jim Fassel to work with the RB’s during drills. That might be an indication that St. Pierre is on his way out and Olson will stick. However it’s way too early to draw such conclusions although if Olson impresses even moderately, it is doubtful that the Ravens will risk sneaking a third quarterback on to the practice squad.
Other observations….The Ravens Radio Network affiliates were in attendance today at minicamp. They were witness to something rarely seen at Ravens OTA’s – gassers….During drills with the defensive front seven, Brian Billick ran with the unit as the scout QB. While he might not make observers forget about Randall Cunningham, he certainly has agility that Scott Mitchell could only dream about….Devard Darling followed up a productive Tuesday with another impressive performance today, despite a beautifully thrown fly from Boller caroming off Darling’s finger tips in QB drills early during the practice….Mark Clayton once again abstained from most of the practice. As he did yesterday, Clayton stayed late catching passes from John Fassel – passes thrown over each shoulder intended to sharpen Clayton’s ability to adjust to passes already in flight before he turns to the QB….Both Boller and McNair practiced the hard cadence with success….All RB’s look solid although an accurate assessment can’t be made until August. Mike Anderson has not run from the FB position yet. P.J. Daniels is moving well as are Musa Smith and Cory Ross. Special teams play will decide many roster spots this season….Frank Gansz, Jr. continues to be very vocal and he is installing wedge formations and he is teaching proper blocking angles that could result in better kick off returns. He certainly had his share of success in Kansas City.