Caldwell's audition begins; will he pass first test?

Offense will have to put up points against No. 4 overall defense

If the next three games are Jim Caldwell's audition to become the Ravens' permanent offensive coordinator, then the odds are stacked against him.

On Thursday before practice, Caldwell was all smiles as he answered questions. He said he liked a challenge, which is part of the reason he got into coaching.

But facing the Denver Broncos Sunday in Baltimore isn't just an uphill battle, it's Mount Everest. If the Ravens plan to run the ball they might not produce enough points. If they engage in a shootout, they might get shot down by one of the NFL's top gunslingers, Peyton Manning.

Oh my.

"The reason why I coach is that I have a great passion for the game," Caldwell said. "I love a challenge. There is nothing about professional football that is easy. So it's going to require everything you have and just a little bit more. That's what makes me excited about what we're doing. I get a chance to step in. The situation is tough.

"I hate to see a colleague lose his job. I've been fired a few times as well. That's the tough part of it. But nevertheless I certainly am excited about having the opportunity to work with some outstanding men in a great organization with outstanding people surrounding me. Let's see what we can do."

It's such a tough situation that when owner Steve Bisciotti strongly suggested to coach John Harbaugh that he fire offensive coordinator Cam Cameron Sunday night, Cameron breathed a sigh of relief.

It would be unfair to judge Caldwell off these three games, which is why the Ravens will probably contact Philadelphia's Andy Reid and San Diego's Norv Turner about the job once they are fired from their respective teams at the end of the season.

Caldwell will be in the mix unless the Ravens develop a high-octane offese for the rest of the season, and then he becomes the automatic choice. But that is very unlikely.

It's true that Caldwell is more respected in the Ravens' locker room than Cameron, and he has a better relationship with quarterback Joe Flacco than Cameron, but the Ravens still have several issues to address.

Caldwell has never called plays before. He plans on being upstairs in a booth calling the plays down to receivers coach Jim Hostler. Plus, this isn't Caldwell's offense but Cameron's. It's not like Caldwell was able to install the old Indianapolis Colts offense in less than a week.

Sunday is going to be interesting.

"What we're going to try to do is put points on the board which we know we need to do," Caldwell said. "We're playing against a very talented defense, one of the best defenses in the league. Von Miller, who rushes the passer on the outside, and Elvis Dumervil are very active guys who create problems for you. Wesley Woodyard in the middle is their leading tackler, running around and making plays all over the field.

"And obviously one of the best corners ever to play the game is Champ Bailey. So we have a lot of challenges here. We really just kind of have to focus in on us. John sets the overall philosophy and tenor of how we attack each ballgame."

The Ravens should be unpredictable. Throw when they are expected to pass and pass when they are expected to run. Denver is extremely balanced on defense. The Broncos are No. 4 overall, No. 6 against the run and No. 7 against the pass.

As for the Ravens, they can't stop anyone on defense these days so Caldwell can't be too conservative.

He'll have to gamble and take his chances with Flacco.

The following game against the New York Giants should be a better barometer of Caldwell. The Giants don't have as much talent on defense as the Broncos.

By then, we'll be able to see if Caldwell plans on turning Flacco loose full-time and having him call his own plays at the line of scrimmage.

We should be able to get a better read on the no-huddle offense and if it will become the base. We'll find out how the Ravens will use star running back Ray Rice. Cameron had trouble getting him in the mix at times. Will Caldwell have the same problem?

"I think Jim Caldwell knows what kind of player I am," Rice said. "I think he's seen how I've handled the situation with Cam [Cameron]. We can't re-invent the wheel around here and change our whole offense. We can't do that right now, but we will stick to the things that we've done well. You look at the past few weeks, we've ran the ball really well. The offensive line is still growing. Joe [Flacco] has been playing at a high level, but we have to continue to do the things that we do well."

It should be fun to watch. Caldwell says he plans to use input from his assistant coaches and players, and the players appear eager to play for Caldwell. But don't expect miracles on Sunday, especially with this offensive line.

If it's the start of an audition, it probably won't be pretty.

"You know what? I don't look any further than the next day," Caldwell said. "Nothing's promised to you. In the Bible it tells you that. What I do is do my job. We'll worry about the other things down the road."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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