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Jim Caldwell plans to bring pace and collaboration to Ravens offense

FootballNFLBaltimore RavensPeyton ManningIndianapolis ColtsJim Caldwell

As the Ravens' new offensive coordinator, Jim Caldwell's responsibilities have grown considerably over the past five days, extending far beyond his old role overseeing quarterback Joe Flacco.

Set to call plays for the first time at the NFL level after replacing Cam Cameron, who was fired Monday morning, Caldwell has to rapidly absorb the big-picture details that accompany this high-profile assignment. Everything from devising game plans, deciding when and how to run and pass, implementing protection and run-blocking schemes and pulling the trigger on the no-huddle offense he helped install is under his control.

"One of the things you look at and certainly understand is that anytime you've been coaching quarterbacks, the offense runs through you," Caldwell said Thursday. "There's not anything that you should not know if you have a good sense of it if you are coaching the quarterbacks. You are involved in every situation. It's not just third down, it's not just first and second down. It's also short-yardage, goal-line, you name it."

The last time Caldwell, 57, called plays was in 1999 when he was the head coach and offensive coordinator at Wake Forest and led the Demon Deacons to the Aloha Classic bowl game.

Although Caldwell is firmly in charge of the offense heading into his debut as offensive coordinator Sunday at M&T Bank Stadium against the Denver Broncos, the former Indianapolis Colts head coach will be provided with assistance from receivers coach Jim Hostler.

The plan is for Caldwell, who remains the quarterbacks coach, to communicate the plays to Hostler, a former San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator, with Hostler relaying the plays to Flacco through a headset.

"Jim is a very, very good coach," said Caldwell, a former four-year starting defensive back at Iowa who's been coaching for 35 years. "He's been around. He's had great experience. Obviously, he will be involved as well. I've been around football a little while, so I do have a good sense of some things, but other things I'm going to lean heavily on him."

Since Caldwell was already working out of the coaches' booth as quarterbacks coach, he will to remain upstairs to stay in his comfort zone and be able to see the entire field.

"That's my plan, but obviously that could change," Caldwell said. "At this point, that's where I plan to be."

With only three games remaining in the regular season, Caldwell isn't going to orchestrate major watershed changes to the NFL's ninth-ranked scoring offense.

That doesn't mean that the offense can't be augmented, though, with a few fresh ideas.

"Obviously, there's not going to be a system change of any sort, but we are going to add a few wrinkles here and there where need be," Caldwell said. "For the most part, I think the guys are comfortable with what we do."

Where Caldwell is expected to trigger a shift from Cameron is through his stronger chemistry with Flacco and his willingness to accept input and feedback from assistant coaches, which is something a control-oriented Cameron was resistant to throughout his five-year tenure, according to multiple sources.

"The biggest thing that we've talked about is just coming together as an offense and everybody helping and giving their input because we're going to need it," Flacco said. "It's a quick change. It's late in the year, and it's going to require all of us to be focused and work hard and work together."

Caldwell has expressed his enthusiasm about getting guidance from other coaches, including Hostler, running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery, offensive line coach Andy Moeller, tight ends coach Wade Harman, head coach John Harbaugh and senior offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg.

When Caldwell was in Indianapolis, the Colts' offense ran smoothly as he, quarterback Peyton Manning and longtime offensive coordinator Tom Moore collaborated on ideas.

"I think it's huge," said Caldwell, who was hired by the Ravens in the offseason after being fired following a dreaful final season in Indianapolis, which Manning missed with a neck injury. "Obviously, [the other Ravens coaches] they've been in this system for a long time. They have a real good understanding of it.

"They are fine technicians, but they also have a great, great grasp of strategy and technique and things of that nature. We've done that all along just in terms of divvying up responsibility and things of that nature, probably even more so now."

Another trait Caldwell has already displayed is a desire to create an up-tempo offense through utilizing a no-huddle offense popular with Flacco and other offensive players. It has effectively been scrapped in recent games after a considerable investment of time and energy during the offseason and preseason.

Several players said they expect Caldwell to not be hesitant to use the no-huddle, given the right situation.

"We're going to play fast and do the things we do best," fullback Vonta Leach said. "He's been very informative about what direction, what he wants to do. ... He should add a spark."

For Caldwell, it's about striking a balance between Flacco's desire to strike deep, which hasn't worked consistently this season, and following a smash-mouth strategy behind the proven legs of Pro Bowl running back Ray Rice.

"One of the good things about our system is the fact that it's versatile," Caldwell said. "We can do whatever it takes. It just depends on who we are playing, how we want to attack them and what we think best suits our personnel. We kind of bounce in and out of it, but every game will take on its own personality."

This stretch amounts to an audition for Caldwell to be named the permanent offensive coordinator, but that's not his focus at the moment. He has plenty to deal with right away, especially the NFL's fourth-ranked defense headlined by pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil.

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

In Caldwell's six years as Manning's position coach, the four-time NFL Most Valuable Player passed for an NFL-best 29,210 yards and 222 touchdowns with a 100.5 quarterback rating.

While the Colts' offense was intricate, Caldwell laughed when asked to characterize his offensive philosophy, replying: "Score as many as you can as often as you can."

With an easygoing nature, Caldwell already seems to be winning over the Ravens locker room.

Caldwell can become even more well-liked if his offensive ideas translate into high-scoring, winning performances for an offense currently ranked 18th in the league with an average of 344.4 yards per game.

"He's definitely a poised coach, a seasoned coach," offensive guard Bobbie Williams said. "He's very intellectual, he can get his point across. As a proven leader, he brings those things to the table."

awilson@baltsun.com

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