Valuable time and resources have been spent this offseason revamping the Ravens running game to ensure that the same dismal rushing attack that brought the team’s offense to its knees in 2013 doesn’t happen again.
They adjusted player personnel to fix the offensive line, hired the “running back whisperer” Gary Kubiak to fix the schemes and even took a flier on prominent college running back coach Thomas Hammock to replace Wilbert Montgomery, who mysteriously decided to seek other opportunities elsewhere after last season.
As the Ravens enter their third week of training camp with one preseason game in the books with another on the horizon this Saturday against the Cowboys, the running game is making noticeable progress. While Kubiak has a lot to do with the progress of the rushing unit along with the players themselves, it’s Hammock who could be this group’s unsung hero of 2014.
Hammock, a former running back himself (Northern Illinois) brings 11 years of collegiate coaching experience to the Ravens backfield in his first season coaching in the NFL. Hammock spent the last three seasons as the University of Wisconsin’s assistant head coach/running backs coach where the Badgers ranked third nationally in rushing yards per attempt (5.7), fourth in rushing touchdowns (121) and seventh overall in rushing yards per game (251.1 ypg).
Each category led the Big Ten during his three-year span.
“The opportunity to coach at the highest level – and that’s what the NFL is – excites me,” Hammock said upon being hired by the Ravens. “To come to an organization that is committed to winning and has a coaching staff that is so respected is a tremendous opportunity, and I’m looking forward to getting started.
Getting started is exactly what Hammock has done.
From the beginning of OTA’s through the first two weeks of training camp he can be heard loudly instructing the Ravens rushers during individual drills and from the sidelines during 11 on 11 drills. Whether it’s veterans Ray Rice, Bernard Pierce, Justin Forsett, free agent Cierre Wood or rookies Lorenzo Taliaferro or Fitz Toussaint, Hammock expects the most out of his players and settles for nothing less. On several occasions, the first-year coach has made each player “do it again” for something as minor as hand placement on simulated blocking drills.
While Hammock takes every aspect of a running back’s job seriously, one thing he can’t stress enough in this day and age of the pass happy NFL is the value of pass blocking and protecting your franchise quarterback.
“Pass protection has to be a premium,” Hammock stated following practice late last month.
“You’ve got to take care of quarterback in every single situation and make sure he stays upright because he’s the one that gives you the best chance to win.”
Albeit the first preseason game of the season, fans got a small sampling of just how good the unit could be with the performance of the Ravens backs against the 49ers in their 23-3 win last Thursday. The running backs combined for 181 yards rushing on 40 carries with rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro rushing for a team-high 71 yards.
While Hammock’s group was responsible for two fumbles against the 49ers stout defense, he stressed throughout the week the importance of ball security making each back take extended reps in security drills.
As the summer wears on and the starters take on a heavier workload in the weeks ahead, the Ravens run game will continue to adjust and fine tune their craft in preparation for the regular season.
While we truly won’t know until the snaps are for real just how much better the Ravens run offense will truly be, rest assure Hammock won’t settle for anything less than perfection.
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