OWINGS MILLS – Cam Cameron never left the Baltimore Ravens’ building except for a quick scouting trip at the Senior Bowl.
In a move that wasn’t regarded as an upset victory for Cameron within the Ravens’ training complex, the oft-criticized offensive coordinator was retained by coach John Harbaugh.
Cameron now in the process of finalizing a new contract since his four-year contract is expiring.
“An announcement is not necessary,” Harbaugh said. “Cam has been our offensive coordinator and will continue to be our offensive coordinator. I wasn’t surprised. It was a foregone conclusion to me.”
Cameron kept his job despite enduring a stinging amount of criticism throughout the season.
And the doubt about his status ended this week, though, when the Ravens decided to offer Cameron a new contract following a 23-20 AFC championship game loss to the New England Patriots where quarterback Joe Flacco tossed two touchdown passes to outduel Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.
Upon receiving the good news from Harbaugh, Cameron phoned Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome.
“I’m obviously thrilled,” Cameron said. “I called Ozzie and said, ‘Hey, I’m just thrilled to be back.’ And Ozzie said, ‘Cam, in our minds, you were never gone.’ And that means the world. Obviously, we’ve got a lot of unfinished business. Our focus will be the same: getting better. We’ve got some areas we need to improve in.”
Cameron said the length of the deal is still being determined.
It’s expected to be a lucrative contract financially.
The relationship between Flacco and Cameron has drawn intense scrutiny, especially in previous seasons.
However, they worked more closely together after the firing of quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn and seemed to have a lot less friction. Flacco spoke to team officials about Cameron after the season and didn’t express opposition to his return.
“We have a great relationship,” Cameron said. “Joe has grown so much and in so many ways, not only as a player but as a man. There’s greatness in him. He’s right on track to where a lot of the great ones have been. That’s encouraging for us."
However, Cameron’s return is expected to include an addition: a quarterbacks coach to help Flacco, who passed for 3,610 yards, 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions last season.
Head Coach John Harbaugh left the door open to adding a quarterbacks coach for next season.
Cameron handled those duties last season, working in tandem with offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg.
“I think we’ll see where all that goes down the road. I mean it’s a possibility,” Harbaugh said. “The way that it worked out last year on offense, to me, was tremendously successful. It was the right move at the right time.
“I think the quarterback and the offensive coordinator need to really be of one mind; both relationally and football-wise. Those guys being in the room together to me was a smashing success. I think that really helped Joe grow this offense, and it was a direct communication every single day, all day long with the offensive coordinator, the play caller and the guy who was building the offensive system.”
The Ravens made minor improvements offensively, at least statistically, after cutting tight end Todd Heap and wide receiver Derrick Mason, signing left offensive tackle Bryant McKinnie, fullback Vonta Leach and drafting rookie wide receiver Torrey Smith in the second round and trading for wide receiver Lee Evans.
Most of the moves worked out except for Evans, who caught only four passes after being acquired via a trade from the Buffalo Bills.
The Ravens climbed to 15th in total offense, averaging 338.7 yards per game, one year after ranking 22nd overall and averaging 322.9 yards.
They ranked 10th in rushing offense, gaining 124.8 yards per game as Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice rushed for a career-high 1,364 yards and 12 touchdowns. They were 14th in 2010, averaging 114.4 yards.
And they improved to 19th in passing, one spot better than they did in 2010 as the Ravens averaged 213.9 yards in the air in 2011 and 208.4 passing yards in 2010.
They ranked 12th in scoring defense, averaging 23.6 points per game, after finishing 16th in scoring offense in 2010 when they averaged 22.3 points.
“We turned a lot of things over on offense,” Harbaugh said. “We had young receivers out there, we had new tights out there and the left side of our offensive line was new for most of the season.
“I thought our players and coaches did a great job. They fought like crazy, got the job done and won 13 games. That’s the bottom line.”
The Ravens finished 12-4 in the regular season, winning the AFC North division title for the first time in five seasons, sweeping the Pittsburgh Steelers and earning the second seed in the AFC playoffs.
“The chemistry in the passing game will come,” Cameron said. “If it was easy for all new guys just to light it up in the passing game, then everybody would do it every year. I think you saw progress.”
Against the Patriots, the Ravens gained 398 yards of total offense as Flacco completed 22 of 36 passes for 306 yards and two scores with one interception.
If not for Evans’ failure to secure an accurate Flacco throw in the end zone that was ripped away by Patriots cornerback Sterling Moore, the Ravens would have advanced to the Super Bowl.
“It was no surprise to me, no surprise to Joe,” Cameron said. “We’ve seen Joe play well in big games, in big games on the road. He played extremely well. I’m proud of him.
“We know what we’ve got to get done. There will be some personnel changes on offense to help us get better. He’s excited about us getting that done.”
Cameron has had a lot of detractors since his arrival in Baltimore, but Harbaugh and the organization has stuck with him.
A year ago when the Ravens lost to the Steelers in the AFC divisional round, owner Steve Bisciotti famously said: “We like Cam under fire as our offensive coordinator next year.”
And now the Ravens are bringing Cameron back, intent on upgrading the offense more next season.
Although many fans immediately expressed disapproval with Cameron’s return, the veteran play-caller said he accepts those reactions as par for the course.
“I know that goes with the territory,” Cameron said. “When you’re the offensive play-caller and everyone can evaluate run or pass and who should have had it thrown to them, that really is where the interest of this game is. People aren’t really sitting around second-guessing a ton of other stuff.
“Criticism is part of the game. It goes with the coordinator, it goes with the quarterbacks. We’ve got to go out and prove ourselves every week. I think everybody should be confident going into next year.”
NOTE: The Ravens signed offensive guard Howard Barbieri and linebacker Cody Glenn to reserve/future deals.