When a team goes 8-8 and has one of the worst rush attacks in NFL history as a Super Bowl encore, there is going to be turnover on the coaching staff.
That’s just what happened in Baltimore, where the inability of the Ravens offense to recreate its 2012 postseason magic led to the firing of longtime position coaches Jim Hostler and Wilbert Montgomery, among others, while offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell was hired away be Detroit.
To replace Caldwell, the Ravens went with the big name, fan-desired choice in former Houston Texans head coach Gary Kubiak.
To replace Hostler and Montgomery, the organization went a different route, delving into the talent pool that the college level had to offer.
To replace Montgomery as running backs coach, the Ravens hired Wisconsin assistant Thomas Hammock, who held the same position with the Badgers.
To replace Hostler as the wide receivers coach, the team turned to former NFL receiver and Pittsburgh Panthers receivers coach Bobby Engram.
Hammock spent three years with the Badgers, while Engram spent two years with the Panthers after one year as an assistant with the San Francisco 49ers.
The two outside-the-box hires provide the Ravens with fairly inexperienced coaches in NFL terms, but these hires could pay off in the long run.
To kick off their respective careers in Baltimore, getting their positional units back in order (two of the worst units on the Ravens in 2013) will be key for Hammock and Engram.
But will the Ravens help get them “their guys” as a means to that end?
In this year’s NFL draft, each coach has a former starting player that he worked with last season, and both players could fit in Baltimore’s offense well.
For Hammock, senior Wisconsin running back James White carried the load for the Badgers in 2013, and could attract interest from NFL teams on the third day of the draft.
With two ailing running backs in Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce, as well as the uncertainty of Rice’s future in Baltimore, adding another running back to the mix in the offseason is now one of the keys to improving an abysmal Baltimore offense.
The Ravens don’t need to reach for a running back in the draft, however, and ideally the third day of the draft could be the right time to find a new ball carrier to add to the rotation.
That’s where White enters the discussion.
White is a physical runner between the tackles, and has the quick-cutting run style that would fit well in Baltimore’s zone-blocking scheme. He also provides value as a receiver out of the backfield – something Baltimore’s offense desperately needs – as he caught 39 passes in Wisconsin’s pro-style offense in 2013.
White is not only a reliable pass catcher; his ability after the catch makes him a valuable asset for an NFL offense.
Hammock had this to say when asked about White earlier this month:
“James is more of a make-you-miss type of back,” Hammock said. “Montee was more power, physical, downhill because he’s a little bit bigger. But James can help you in the passing game as well. He can catch it. He can run routes. He has a good understanding of football. Very, very smart football player. I think his skill-set will transition well to the next level.”
“Obviously you’d need to get him in the right situation,” Hammock said. “He doesn’t have elite speed. But there’s a lot of backs who haven’t been the fastest runners. He just has to be given a good opportunity in a good situation to show what he can do, similar to what he was able to do during the Senior Bowl.”
As for Engram, his connection is to former Panthers starting receiver Devin Street.
The senior was the focal point of Pittsburgh’s offense in 2013, and has 40 games as a starter to back up his impressive on-field play.
To complement Street’s aggressive and sure-handed playing style, he has the ideal build of a developmental receiver. At the combine, Street weighed in at 198 pounds, stands at 6’3 and has almost 34” arms. He’ll benefit from packing on some more weight, but there isn’t much not to like physically.
On the field, Street is a reliable in-traffic target, and his long arms give him a plus catch radius. He does most of his damage before and during the catch, as he often looks indecisive regarding what to do after the catch.
As a possible day three pick like White, Street can provide value as a move the chains type player with the athleticism to make an occasional big play.
Engram had this to say about his former Pitt protégé in November:
“He’s tall. He can run. He’s got good hands,” Engram told pantherlair.com, a website that covers Pitt athletics. “You know, it’s hard to judge how guys make that transition from this level to the next. But I think he has all of the attributes. I think he has a desire to be good and go to the next level and do well.”
Street could be what the Ravens want out of Aaron Mellette plus more, which wouldn’t be too bad for a mid-round pick.
As Engram noted, Street still has some development to undergo, but could the process be accelerated if Street didn’t have to adapt to a new position coach?
Of course, the members of the front office will go with their gut on draft day, but they’ll surely turn to Hammock and Engram for input on their former players leading up to the draft.
With Baltimore’s need at both positions as well as the fact that Hammock and Engram hold each of their former players in high regard, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Ravens hold a little more value in each player.
Position coaches don’t carry too much weight when it comes to the draft, but the connections to Street and White could lead to one or both becoming parts of the Ravens offense in 2014.