Tony: Why is the Ravens' offensive line so bad? There is constant pressure on the quarterback and no holes for the running back. I thought this group was supposed to be talented. What's been the difference from last year?
Mike Preston: The major difference has been the inexperience. At times this season, the Ravens' offensive line has started three rookies, or in some cases, used a second-year player in Chris Chester. Physically, they aren't ready for the grind of an entire NFL season. A year ago, most of these guys had finished the regular season two or three weeks ago, and were preparing for bowl games. The kids are tired. In cases where you have veterans like center Mike Flynn and left tackle Jonathan Ogden, they know when it's time to shut it down because they have nothing to play for. Overall, the future looks bright for this group, but it's going to take another year or two
Tom: Assess quarterback Troy Smith's debut as a starter in the NFL.
Mike Preston: Smith is no better than what I saw in training camp and the preseason. He has average arm strength, but already has more quarterback awareness than Kyle Boller. There was nothing there except his leadership skills to make me believe he was the quarterback of the future. But just like those young offensive linemen, he's been through a tough grind also in his first NFL season. People tend to forget that these rookies haven't had much time off since the summer leading up to their senior seasons. Hopefully, he gets another shot Sunday, and then we'll see what happens next year.
Mike: Who are some names out there that would be a good fit for the Ravens to hire to take over the offense?
Mike Preston: Andy Reid if he gets fired in Philly as well as current Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. Scott Linehan's name was being tossed around, but it appears the St. Louis Rams are going to bring him back as head coach. Former New Orleans assistant coach Mike Sheppard would be a candidate. The Ravens keep putting a spin out there that there are no worthy candidates, saying they would like to retain the status quo and keep continuity.
That's bull. If they get out there, make the phone calls, do the interviews and use all their contacts, they can find a good offensive coordinator or a replacement for Brian Billick if necessary. After nine years of the same old offense, a lot of people are tired of hearing the same old excuses.
What if the Ravens stepped up to the plate and forced a change? It's interesting that in his contract Billick has a say over hiring coaches. If owner Steve Bisciotti pushed him, I wonder if Billick would cave in to his demands or resign.
Staci: Do you think linebacker Antwan Barnes can start next season, and what is the latest on Terrell Suggs' contract status? Are the Ravens considering using the franchise tag?
Mike Preston: I hear Terrell Suggs wants Dwight Freeney-type money, but he certainly doesn't have Freeney-type stats, especially this year. The word is that the Ravens are prepared to slap the franchise tag on Suggs because they believe he is the best at his position in the game. As for Barnes, he plays extremely hard and can bring the heat as a pass rusher. Even if he doesn't get a sack, he makes the quarterback move. He needs a good year in the weight room because he is small by NFL standards. But once he hits the weights, he is going to be a good one.
Ryan: Do you expect Bisciotti to force Billick to turn the offense over to someone else in the offseason?
Mike Preston: Anybody seen Bisciotti? Isn't he playing golf in Saudi Arabia?
In all honesty, I have no idea of what this team is going to do about Billick. I don't know if they are going to fire him, or make him change his offensive staff. Rumors are rampant, but something has to be done because the Billick act and his offense have gotten old. The fans are tired of it and so are the players. It's frustrating to see fans leaving the game at halftime because they know the Ravens can't mount a comeback.
But as of last night, there was an APB put out on Bisciotti.
M. Forbes: Which position will this team need to fill more than any other before next year?
Mike Preston: Head coach, offensive coordinator, cornerback and quarterback.
Jamie: What are the chances that the Ravens give Steve McNair another shot as the starter next year if he's healthy?
Mike Preston: From what I've heard directly from general manager Ozzie Newsome, there appears to be a plan in place to bring him back. Newsome said the injury was to his non-throwing shoulder. During training camp, Newsome also said he believed McNair could play through the 2008 season, but he got hurt on the second play of the opener against the Cincinnati Bengals, and it went downhill from there.
As for me, I'd look for a new starting QB. The Ravens might have to eat some salary, but it's better than eating up all those turnovers from this season.
Anna: Has Bart Scott been a disappointment this season? His numbers have dropped and I never hear his name on the broadcast anymore.
Mike Preston: Bart had an average year, and didn't build on the reputation he earned last season. The Ravens had him drop more into coverage this season, and that's not his strength. I think Bart needs to get into the weight room and gain more upper body strength, and then he will become more of a complete linebacker. I also think he needs to focus more instead of talking so much because he got away from his game.
Overall, I think he is young and talented enough to still become one of the best in the game. I haven't lost confidence in him. As a matter of fact, I think he'll come back bigger and better next season because he doesn't like to lose.
Sam: Is it fair to label Todd Heap as soft or fragile? It seems like he's always injured and takes a long time to get healthy.
Mike Preston: Good question. I recently had a high-ranking Ravens official tell me he thought Heap could play four more years. I agreed with him because it seems Heap only plays every leap year. I wouldn't call him a Mr. Softee because Heap has always played hard. The problem is he plays without regard for his body. Quarterbacks would stretch him out over the middle, and he'd go get it. His body is just beat up and worn down.
I would say that it's time for the Ravens to start looking for another good tight end.
Mike: Is this the year Ogden finally retires? If so, what would that mean for salary cap space?
Mike Preston: I think J.O. is gone, and the only way he returns is if the Ravens fire Billick. He's fed up with the play-calling like a lot of the other veterans. If he wanted to commit to a good offseason program, Ogden could still play at a high level in this league for another two or three years.
Note from Preston: This will be the last week for the Q&A. I appreciate your questions, and hopefully this format was informative as well as entertaining. Like most of you, I thought the Ravens would easily advance to the playoffs when the season began, but it didn't happen. Regardless, the sun still comes up in the morning because it's still just a game. Happy New Year.
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