Picking an offensive coordinator just the first step to fixing Ravens

Joe Flacco

Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco walks off the field after the Ravens lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, 34-17, to end the regular season. (Andy Lyons, Getty Images / December 29, 2013)

Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said there was an outpouring of candidates for the team's offensive coordinator position, which was expected, since the Ravens are one of the NFL's top franchises.

There are some impressive names floating around, like Gary Kubiak and Norv Turner, both of whom won Super Bowls while working with some of football's greatest players.

But whoever takes the job won't have that type of talent to work with. The new coordinator had better be prepared to bring a lunch pail, roll up his sleeves and do some heavy lifting. The Ravens might have been only a few plays away from the playoffs, but they are a year or two away from being a high-powered offense.

Thinking the Ravens can turn this offense around overnight is like believing they would have brought back Jim Caldwell as offensive coordinator had he not become the Detroit Lions' head coach.

Turner made his name in Dallas in the 1990s with quarterback Troy Aikman, running back Emmitt Smith, wide receiver Michael Irvin and three Pro Bowl offensive linemen.

Kubiak built his reputation as one of the best offensive minds in the NFL with quarterbacks like Steve Young and John Elway, and running back Terrell Davis.

Here in Baltimore the Ravens have quarterback Joe Flacco, kicker Justin Tucker and, and, and ...

Well, that's about it. They've got some guys who are solid and others with potential, but there is much work to be done here.

A lot.

It's going to take time, especially if the Ravens name a coordinator not currently on the staff. The Ravens are considering receivers coach Jim Hostler for the job, but there is no magic there. We've seen enough of his work already. He helped design that brilliant passing game last season, the one without a lot of picks, rubs and quick screens. The passing game that didn't put Torrey Smith in motion or in the slot often.

If, as they should, the Ravens go outside the building, that will require a new system and also time to learn it. There are several minicamps, a training camp and four preseason games, but it's impossible to get all the kinks out until the real games are played.

That was evident last year when Juan Castillo became the "new" offensive line coach. The players and coaching staff were resistant to change, and it never took serious hold. It will be different next season because everyone is expecting change.

There is also the trust factor, and a key will be the new coordinator's relationship with Flacco. Poor Joe. In six years, he has had four quarterback coaches, including Cam Cameron, and is about to have a third coordinator.

Here is some advice to the new guy: Please don't try to be a quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at the same time. Flacco has done well when he has had someone like a Hue Jackson, Jim Zorn or Caldwell to chat with on the sideline while the coordinator called plays.

Flacco needs that additional direction. He is a proven winner, but also inconsistent and inaccurate. Coming into next season, though, Flacco will play with a vengeance because he completed only 362 of 614 passes last season for 3,912 yards, and finished with a quarterback rating of 73.1 and a career-high 22 interceptions.

But Flacco is the least of the Ravens' concerns on offense. A priority is rebuilding the offensive line, which allowed 48 sacks. The Ravens likely will be looking for a starting tackle because both Michael Oher and Eugene Monroe are free agents.

Monroe is likely to return, but the Ravens still want to find a center to challenge Gino Gradkowski, and no one knows for sure how left guard Kelechi Osemele will play after having back surgery.

The Ravens could pursue offensive linemen in free agency, but the most likely course is building through the draft. That also will take time.

There are no shortcuts.

The Ravens have fewer holes at the skilled positions, but there are questions about running back Ray Rice. Can he regain his old form, or is he just too old? A year ago, backup Bernard Pierce appeared to be Rice's future replacement, but he was just as ineffective as Rice. As a team, the Ravens averaged only 3.1 yards a carry in 2013.

Smith is a deep vertical threat on the outside, and both Marlon Brown and tight end Dennis Pitta can be targets inside the red zone, but where is the possession receiver? Where is the big receiver that every team in the NFC North except for the Ravens has?

When you bring in a coordinator with new terms, plays and schemes, it takes time to get an offense in sync. It takes even longer with a team that converted on only 92 of 253 third downs and had one of the worst run offenses in the league.

That's the Ravens.

A lot of pieces in the puzzle are missing. They'll get a big one when they hire a coordinator, but that's only the beginning.

That's when it's time to roll up the sleeves.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

 
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