WESTMINSTER — Cam Cameron struck a stoic pose a year ago prior to the Baltimore Ravens’ regular-season game against the Miami Dolphins, unwilling to let down his guard and definitely reluctant to overshadow his football team with his personal story.
The topic of conversation was Cameron’s firing following a brutal 1-15 debacle in his lone season as the Dolphins’ head coach.
It was only after the Ravens’ victory over the Dolphins and Bill Parcells, the man who dismissed him, that Cameron revealed much emotion after being given the game ball and enough hugs to make his ribs ache.
"Every player or coach in this business gets stung," Cameron said when his brief tenure in Miami was broached this month. "That’s just the way this business is. I think there are a ton of great examples of people that come back and continue to do good things. I’m not different from a player.
“You learn from any situation you were in. You come back. You’ve got to get better. You move on. I think that’s what the great coaches and the great players in this league do. If you can’t bounce back, then this is probably not the profession for you."
Cameron lived up to those words a year ago, engineering a major turnaround as he overhauled the Ravens’ offense.
He helped build the fourth-ranked rushing attack in the league, utilizing burly fullback Le’Ron McClain as well as traditional halfbacks Willis McGahee and Ray Rice to set a franchise record with 20 touchdown runs.
He fostered the development of precocious quarterback Joe Flacco, who became the first rookie passer to ever win two playoff games.
And the Ravens averaged 24.1 points per contest while leading the NFL in time of possession.
Along the way, the Ravens defeated Cameron’s old team twice. That included a resounding win in the playoffs.
Cameron had finally exorcised the demons of a 1-15 season.
"It was a tough situation for everyone involved, but I think it shows what kind of coach he is by what happened last year, taking these guys one game away from the Super Bowl," said Ravens third-string quarterback John Beck, who was drafted in the second round in Miami under Cameron’s leadership. "Just like a good athlete, when you’re in a tough situation it’s hard to shine. Same thing with a good coach. You get him in a good situation, and then he shines."
Now, Cameron is determined to upgrade the Ravens’ offense after scoring 385 points last season.
Players have openly talked about leading the league in rushing.
Flacco has matured and seems to have streamlined his mechanics and improved his accuracy.
And the Ravens are expected to expand what’s being asked of Flacco and the passing game after running a controlled attack last year where the towering first-round draft pick mostly just managed the game until later in the season.
"Well, maybe that’s true," Cameron said. "We ask our quarterbacks to do a lot. It may not look that way at times, but there’s a lot of leeway for our quarterbacks. As a young quarterback goes, you’d like to think you can do more. What that means, I guess we’re going to have to wait and find out."
Plus, former Pro Bowl tight end Todd Heap is healthy again, and the Ravens added former Philadelphia Eagles starting tight end L.J. Smith to work in tandem with him.
And two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver Derrick Mason ended his brief retirement.
However, the offense still lacks a dynamic playmaker outside and is often at the mercy of the questionable durability of wide receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams.
At least the offense is beginning to approach equal-partner status with their more accomplished defensive colleagues.
"Bottom line, we’ve got some great young talent over there," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "As a team, we’re built. If you’re going to defeat us, you’re going to defeat us as a team. There’s no one side to any of this. When we step on the field, we’re one heartbeat."
From a strategic standpoint, the NFL’s second-ranked defense from a year ago enjoys the chess match with Cameron who’s adept at identifying and taking advantage of mismatches and weaknesses.
"It’s a full-time job," defensive coordinator Greg Mattison said of adjusting to Cameron’s formations and schemes. "One thing about Cam Cameron, you better make sure all your bases are covered because he’s a tremendous offensive coordinator.
"He will sense immediately if you’re doing something, when he’s watching it and he sees it, that’s not sound. You can bet that the next time he’s going to exploit that. That’s one of the things that makes him a great coordinator and a great football coach."
The offensive line has been bolstered by the addition of first-round offensive tackle Michael Oher to replace retired Willie Anderson as well as the signing of six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk to take the place of Jason Brown.
"We’ve to get better in a lot of areas, but I think we are better," Cameron said. "Looking at the offense as a whole, I think we’re better upfront. I think our quarterbacks are better. I think all our running backs are the healthiest they’ve been.
"It will be running back by committee. We’ve got three good running backs, and I think everybody is clear that you need three guys at least."
This time, though, it’s unlikely that the Ravens will sneak up on anyone now that they’re a returning playoff contender that isn’t coming off a 5-11 season that cost former coach Brian Billick his job two years ago.
"We’ve got a lot of talent, a lot of young guys," Cameron said. "They’ve got to make the same strides in their second year that Le’Ron McClain did last year. So, we’ve got to take another step and get better.
“We’ve got to get better, because we know there is no defense that is going to overlook us. Maybe we got overlooked a little bit last year."
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.