It’s no secret that last season was an awful one for the Ravens offense, particularly the offensive line.
Joe Flacco was under duress far too often and the rushing attack ran on empty and ended up as the NFL’s worst.
Coming off a Super Bowl XLVII victory fans demanded answers, sought solutions and wondered why the Ravens changed anything at all, championing the credo, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”
Yet changes were ushered in and the uncommon denominators were Juan Castillo and Gino Gradkowski.
The Ravens had little choice but to pass the baton to Gradkowski as the team’s new center following Matt Birk’s retirement. Unfortunately he dropped the baton and is now a reserve.
Castillo’s story is a bit different.
Fans cast him as the villain in the Ravens failed 2013 season. They needed a fall guy and the well-established coach with an impressive resume along with his zone blocking principles collectively became a convenient scapegoat.
What a copout!
John Harbaugh rightly accepted some of the blame for Castillo’s struggles. Initially given the title of “Run Game Coordinator”, Harbaugh later admitted that Castillo was the de facto commander of the offensive line.
But that title was held by now departed assistant coach Andy Moeller who was credited for the offensive line’s resurgence late during the 2012 season and a coach who was well-liked by his players. He moved on to Cleveland to be their offensive line coach after some consideration from the Detroit Lions and head coach Jim Caldwell.
Apparently the former Ravens’ offensive coordinator and Moeller had no issues.
Otherwise why consider him?
Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery decided to “pursue other coaching and life opportunities” after the season and eventually joined Moeller in Cleveland. Obviously those two get along just fine and are on the same page philosophically when it comes to running the football.
All three along with Castillo were responsible for last season’s train wreck.
Rumors surfaced that the coaches weren’t all on the same page and that created a divide not only in the coaching staff, but amongst the players as well.
When the team’s new and inexperienced center was asked to take on an unfamiliar approach and new terminology while supported by a perennial backup to his left, an injured player to his right, a new left tackle and a struggling right tackle, it’s a minor miracle the team finished 8-8.
And with all of this uncertainty, it’s no surprise that they resisted Castillo’s new approach, particularly when they won the big game just months before.
But failure can open your mind to a new approach.
This season, given how Castillo’s principles mesh nicely with offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s philosophies, a singular message is being delivered AND accepted.
The results so far are impressive.
Entering week 3 of the preseason, the Ravens offense leads the NFL in rushing yards per game (194.0) while Bernard Pierce owns a league-best 5.4 yards per carry average and rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro has produced the NFL’s most rushing yards (130) this preseason, averaging 4.5 yards per carry on 29 attempts.
Granted, it’s only the preseason but isn’t that where the problems started in 2013?
Maybe, just maybe the resurgence can start in the preseason too.
And if and when that happens all of Castillo’s critics should swallow a little humble pie and give him his fair share of credit.
I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one though.