LOMBARDI’S WAY: Looks like Harbaugh will play to win

Lombardi's Way LOMBARDI’S WAY: Looks like Harbaugh will play to win

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One of the things that I criticized Brian Billick for throughout his tenure as Ravens’ head coach was his knack for coaching with fear.  He refused to take calculated risks and was far too concerned about injuries to his players.  Injuries are a way of life in the NFL.  There’s no way of avoiding them.  Sometimes teams are fortunate like the Ravens of 2006.  Other times teams aren’t so fortunate like the Ravens of 2007.
Teams have to prepare, practice hard and play harder and hope that through effort and preparation they remain healthy. 
And hopefully get lucky.
Somewhere along the line Brian Billick thought that he could manage that luck.  He attempted to stave off injuries by maxing out on creature comforts for his players.  He also chose to align his players in positions that they were most familiar with, again in part to protect against injury.
Meanwhile other clubs used the unique athleticism and intelligence of certain players to benefit their teams even if the surroundings for that player were somewhat unfamiliar.
One player who comes to mind is Mike Vrabel of the New England Patriots.  Vrabel often lines up as an additional tight end and has developed a knack for sitting down in the right area of the end zone to provide Tom Brady with a window of opportunity and the result is often an easy touchdown.  Dallas employs Terrell Owens’ ball skills in the prevent defense to guard against successful Hail Mary attempts by opponents at the end of either half.  Julius Peppers has seen time as a tight end.  Defensive tackles around the league see time at fullback or tight end in jumbo packages designed to move the chains or score in short yardage situations.  Warren Sapp comes to mind.
Yet the Ravens avoided that temptation (assuming there was one) under Billick, preferring instead to take the safe approach and not risk injuries, turnovers or both.  That is the approach of a defeatist.
And that is an approach that apparently John Harbaugh will not subscribe to.
During mandatory mini-camp practices that recently concluded, Haloti Ngata lined up at fullback.  Those who have seen Ngata practice know that for a man of his physical stature he is very nimble afoot.  What linebacker would want to take him on as a lead blocker during a rush off the edge?
The Ravens had Adalius Thomas for years – a man who could stand under the basket and dunk backwards.  He could run a 4.6 at 270 pounds.  He had soft hands.  You know where this is going.
What Raven would you like to see most with the ball in his hands in the open field?  Think about it, what one player wearing purple makes more game breaking plays despite his limited chances?
For me that player is Ed Reed.  His presence alone on offense would raise the suspicion of opposing defenses.  Decoy?  Perhaps, but think of Reed on a quick flanker screen.  The NFL is all about putting your best players in position to make plays.  If mini-camp is any indication, then you might see some of your favorite Ravens defenders on the other side of the football doing whatever they can to score points.  And that’s exactly how it should be.
Although I bet John Harbaugh won’t stand for all of those schoolyard laterals that Brian Billick used to pass along as Ed Reed being Ed Reed.
And isn’t it about time?
Speaking of placing your best players in places to promote the greatest team success, don’t be surprised to see the Ravens use three wide receiver sets much more frequently.  Cam Cameron is a big proponent of putting his best eleven on the field and a strong argument can be made for Derrick Mason, Demetrius Williams and Mark Clayton to be among Cameron’s Eleven.
Moreover, the Ravens are extremely thin at tight end.  The only healthy tight end at the moment is Todd Heap and those who have followed Heap’s career know that his health is about as stable as gas prices these days.  That said Daniel Wilcox is hardly an Iron Man candidate having missed 16 games over the past three seasons due to various ailments.  It might be time for the Ravens to think about a journeyman tight end to augment their current roster. 
John Harbaugh has reportedly decided to put the clamps on the Ravens TV show “Wired” this season because it promotes individualism.  Now that could be debated and some might make the argument that it unifies the team.  But apparently the call has been made and producers for RaveTV will have to take another angle.  The move does however bring into question the plethora of player radio shows.  Last year Ray Lewis, Bart Scott, Jonathan Ogden, Willis McGahee and Derrick Mason all had their own radio shows.  One has to wonder if Harbaugh will exert his influence upon these players and keep them off the airwaves. 
The Ravens and Terrell Suggs have reached a compromise and that could be a sign that the two camps are once again talking.  As you are probably aware, Suggs filed a grievance against the Ravens claiming that the majority of his snaps were taken from the position of defensive end and therefore his franchise tag tender should be that of a defensive end and not a linebacker.  The franchise tender for a defensive end is $8.879 million while that of a linebacker is a paltry sum of $8.065 million.
Suggs agent Gary Wichard said that the two sides have created a new designation – a hybrid defensive end/linebacker with an agreed upon tender of $8.5 million.  The sides are awaiting league approval.
Might this new designation open up Pandora’s Box for the Ravens and the NFL?  Soon safeties who play up in the box for the majority of their snaps might want a linebacker’s tender if they are franchised. 
If Ray Lewis is franchised next year, he may argue that he is deserving of a hybrid tender that takes into account his experiences at linebacker, defensive coordinator, general manager and assistant to the owner.
Not to worry Ravens’ fans, Steve Bisciotti promises to outbid any team that tries to backdoor the Ravens with a hidden hybrid…

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Tony Lombardi

About Tony Lombardi

Tony is 24×7 Networks, LLC’s founder (the parent of EutawStreetReport.com and RussellStreetReport.com) His work has been featured on various sports websites and he is a regular guest on 105.7 The Fan and he hosts “The Fanimal” also heard on 105.7 The Fan, Saturdays from 8-9AM. Among his favorite things in life are his wife, kids, family, friends, The Beatles, Breaking Bad, Gladiator, The Godfather, Guinness, orange crushes, meatballs and Key West, not necessarily in that order. Follow Tony on Twitter @RSRLombardi.

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