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Tony Lombardi: Rick last year Jim Fassel was relieved of his duties after game 6 and Brian took over as O.C. You are O.C. now. Talk about how your role changed last year if at all after Fasselâ€™s departure and then compare last yearâ€™s role to what we can expect from you this year given that Brian will continue to call the playsâ€¦
Rick Neuheisel: When I was hired to be the quarterbacks coach Jim had just been hired to take over as offensive coordinator. And Jimâ€™s comfort level was to maintain some level of communication with the quarterbacks. And obviously Brian is an offensive guy and he likes to spend time with the offense too, so there really were a lot of voices in the quarterbackâ€™s ear. So early in my career here I just tried to take a back seat and try to talk to the young quarterbacks. Kyle was the starter at the time and I worked with Anthony Wright and tried to work with a couple of the other young guys. And then when Kordell came in after Kyleâ€™s injury, I had worked with Kordell at Colorado so I had a great relationship with him. I was just in the shadows so to speakâ€¦learning our offense, learning the NFL having come from college, and trying to assist wherever needed.
In the second year I wanted to gain more of a voice and be more helpful. That was the idea going in [but] it still was a crowded room. Jim still liked to coach the quarterbacks and coordinate the offense. Brian had his ideas and he made the determination after the sixth week of our season, it just wasnâ€™t beneficial. There were no bad guys. Nobody was blaming Jim. No one was saying that anyone was doing anything that was not trying to help to team. It was just a crowded room and Brian decided that our best chance going forward and his best chance to be successful was for him to resume a role that he had in Minnesota as the play caller and coordinator.
When he did that obviously he still has to wear the head coaching hat. So he and I had a long conversation and I feel very fortunate to have gotten this opportunity to be with Brian. And our relationship really forged on the fact that we were both head coaches. So he kind of uses me as a sounding board not only as a philosophy on offense but also philosophy as a team in terms of what do you think as a head coach knowing that you have to be a big picture guy versus looking at one half of the game.
I was a little bit more involved in game planning and certainly more involved in coaching the quarterbacks. And it will really be the same this year. Hopefully Iâ€™ll be a great sounding board. I said great, hopefully itâ€™ll be good information that Iâ€™ll give him. Iâ€™m working hard to be there when he needs me knowing that itâ€™ll get busier when the season starts and the things that heâ€™ll have to do as a head coach, and incorporating a great offensive staff. I think weâ€™ve got a great group of guys on the offensive side of the ball, intelligent and hard working coaches that can give Brian the kind of information he needs to make the best decisions on game day.
TL: In the past, the Ravens in some ways dictated their play calling with the sub packages on the field, particularly when Jamal was accompanied by a full back. Talk about how Willis McGahee brings a bit more in terms of versatility, how he can be a more natural receiving threat out of the backfield, operate out of a single back set or flank out in an empty backfield set â€“ how will that factor into the offensive play calling?
RN: Well I think two things. First weâ€™re excited about having Willis. He does bring that extra gear. Jamal was an outstanding back for the Ravens and I think we will appreciate him for years and years to come. In the recent past, the last two seasons, he has not shown the ability to break the long run much like he did in the season when he ran for 2,000 yards. To get back to being the explosive offense we want to be â€“ to be an offense that can win an AFC Championship Game 38-34, the score of the final game in our conference last year when the Colts beat the Patriots. We felt like we needed to get more explosive.
We made the decision to go to a faster back in Willis. You made mention of Willisâ€™ ability to catch the ball out of the backfield and get out of the backfield and give us empty formations. Certainly Steve McNair has shown the ability to handle that kind of offense. But more importantly was the departure of Ovie Mughelli. Ovie had a terrific year as fullback last season. We were hoping that we would be able to re-sign him and have him return but obviously Atlanta coveted him and we were excited that he was able to make that kind of earning opportunity there in Atlanta and we wish him the best. But now looking at our personnel, we are probably best equipped to go with a single back offense.
Justin Green who is a great talent in the backfield but still a little bit unproven and coming off a knee injury, we just canâ€™t convince ourselves that we can put all our eggs back in the two back basket for next year. That being said, look at the emergence of Demetrius Williams at wide receiver and Mark Clayton who broke through as the talent we all thought he would be last year; Derrick Mason is a very proven player and Todd Heap is as good as there is in the league at creating a match up advantage for us against anybody that they try to line up on him.
You know we have great weapons if weâ€™re able to stay healthy in being in a single back offense. So weâ€™re hopeful that [Willis] will be a great asset for us.
TL: Some teams like to do situational substitution with their backs. Pittsburgh, Dallas, New England. The Ravens have an interesting competition brewing for the No. 2 back with Musa Smith being healthy for the moment, Mike Anderson returning and P.J. Daniels, a guy that many of you were excited about last year judging from his efforts in practice. Do you foresee a situation in which the Ravens might use their No. 2 back more often this year in certain situations and help to limit the wear and tear on McGahee?
RN: I think the entire NFL is leaning more towards a two back rotation. The days of pounding a back with the exception of maybe Larry Johnson in Kansas City I think are coming to an end. I think most people like a two back rotation so that you can have a fresh back when you get to the month of December. Itâ€™s difficult. Now you might get through that for 2, 3 or 4 years but you are going to see the signs of it as they enter that second contract phase. So I think everybody is trying to do that.
You mentioned that we have a number of candidates in that second role. You know Musa Smith was a very, very coveted back by the rest of the league a year ago. Trades are not commonplace in the NFL but I remember his name being brought up by a number of teams as a guy they all wanted. Heâ€™s just been unfortunate with injuries in the last couple of years. P.J. Daniels out of Georgia Tech, when he matures he certainly has the burst and the spark to be kind of a game changing, tempo changing type of guy. And Mike Anderson, every time we gave him the ball he usually made a big play. So he has got the ability to still go in there and be effective.
The other thing that Mike gives you is the possibility of depth at fullback because he played some fullback at Denver. So weâ€™ve got some different ways to get our guys on the field and hopefully make some positive yards.
(Stay tuned for part 2 with Rick Neuheisel tomorrow…)