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OWINGS MILLS — Steve McNair no longer needs a translator, a tour guide or anyone to introduce him around the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ locker room.
A year ago, the veteran quarterback was undergoing a crash course in the Ravensâ€™ playbook after a June trade from the Tennessee Titans. It was akin to trying to learn a foreign language in a few months.
Plus, he was trying to get back in shape after being locked out of the Titansâ€™ weight room for the entire offseason due to a contract dispute. Hence, there were some moments lost in translation.
Now, a rejuvenated McNair returns for his second season in Baltimore with a new comfort level and an increased knowledge of an offense designed to take advantage of his leadership and accuracy.
At least this season McNair doesnâ€™t have to overcome the hurdle of a steep learning curve.
â€œI think it can help me a lot,â€ McNair said during a minicamp interview. â€œFor one, it can give me a better understanding of what Brian Billick wants out of this offense and what I can do in this offense. We couldnâ€™t put enough things in last year because of the limited time we had of me coming in.
â€œThis year because weâ€™re starting early, I think we can put some things in that I really and truly can do with my eyes closed. Thatâ€™s going to enhance us to go out and execute and be consistent throughout the whole year and not have this stalemate in the middle of the season or the end of the season.â€
McNair appeared to tire toward the end of last season, turning in his worst performance at the most inopportune time.
During the Ravensâ€™ 15-6 playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts, he threw two interceptions, passed for just 173 yards and had a 49.9 quarterback rating. That marked an interruption of a hot streak McNair began riding after Billick fired offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and installed himself as the play-caller.
During six games under Fassel, McNair completed 95 or 169 passes for 915 yards, five touchdowns and seven interceptions for a 64.1 rating.
In the final 10 games under Billick, McNair completed 200 of 299 passes for 2,135 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions or a 92.9 rating.
â€œWhat Steve did last year was start from scratch,â€ center Mike Flynn said. â€œThatâ€™s incredibly tough on a quarterback. He probably wasnâ€™t comfortable until midway through the season.
â€œHeâ€™s comfortable with the guys now. At first, we didnâ€™t know him and he didnâ€™t know us. We didnâ€™t have that camaraderie. Heâ€™s a great guy, and being comfortable with the guys and the area is a big thing for him.â€
Despite the unfamiliarity, McNair engineered two comeback victories.
The three-time Pro Bowl passer was particularly impressive against his old team, leading Baltimore to a 27-26 victory in Nashville, Tenn., to overcome a 19-point deficit. He passed for 373 yards, the second-highest total in team history behind Vinny Testaverdeâ€™s 429 yards in 1996, and contributed three touchdown passes.
McNair built a strong rapport with tight end Todd Heap along with young receivers Mark Clayton and Demetrius Williams, and renewed his connection with former Titans teammate Derrick Mason.
Still, there was always a certain limitation for McNair and the offense, a handicap based heavily on his lack of experience in Baltimore’s version of the West Coast offense.
â€œIt was like speaking a foreign language for him,â€ offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Rick Neuheisel said. â€œSteve picked up things very quickly, but thereâ€™s no real substitute for experience. Now, I think he knows our offense so well he probably couldnâ€™t even recognize the Titansâ€™ offense.â€
McNair arrives for training camp in Westminster on equal footing as the Ravens begin emphasizing the one-back formation for new running back Willis McGahee while implementing more three and four wide receiver packages.
â€œThat only leads me to believe that we can be a lot better this year because heâ€™s going to be a lot more comfortable,â€ Heap said. â€œYou can see that heâ€™s not worried about getting hit or anything and heâ€™s making plays.â€
Physically, McNair looks several pounds lighter. For a change, he didnâ€™t undergo any offseason surgeries. The 13-year veteran’s arm strength seemed visibly improved during minicamps as he delivered the football with more zip.
â€œIâ€™m in good shape,â€ said McNair, a former NFL Co-Most Valuable Player. â€œAs you get older in this league, you need to get a jump on these young guys. So, I prepared myself.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.