Saying he feels a sense of urgency with his team missing the playoffs for the first time in his six-season tenure, Ravens coach John Harbaugh vowed to explore all avenues this offseason to fix a disappointing offense.
In a 40-plus minute news conference Tuesday at the Under Armour Performance Center, Harbaugh acknowledged that upgrading the much-maligned offensive line is an offseason priority, backed struggling running back Ray Rice and didn't completely rule out changes with his coaching staff.
There have been lingering questions about the status of offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell and run game coordinator Juan Castillo after the Ravens finished the season ranked 30th in the NFL in total offense, and with the least productive running game in franchise history.
"I don't want to get into all that right now because I just don't think that would be fair," Harbaugh said when asked about potential changes on his staff. "I don't want to say that I'm never going to do anything or I'm always going to do something. I don't plan on doing anything right now … [but] I don't want to make an oath that I really don't know the answer to for the future."
Harbaugh did praise his staff, including Castillo, the 32-year coaching veteran who joined the team as a consultant during last season's playoff run. Castillo signed a lucrative three-year deal to direct the running game and the offensive line, but his first full season with the Ravens was a tumultuous one.
The Ravens finished 30th in the NFL in rushing yards per game (83.0) and last in yards per carry (3.1). Their 1,328 rushing yards on the season was the lowest total in franchise story, significantly falling under the previous low of 1,589 yards in 1997. Quarterback Joe Flacco was also sacked a career-high 48 times.
"It's a lot of things and that's part of it," Harbaugh said when asked about Castillo's responsibility for the offensive line's woes. "Juan Castillo will be the first guy to say put it all on his shoulders. There are probably a lot of people out there willing to do that. … Being in those meetings every single day and being a part of that thing every single day, I know better, and every one of our players knows better, and every one of our coaches knows that there are a lot of things that go into that. I've got complete confidence and belief in all of our coaches. It goes for Juan Castillo; it goes for all of our guys. I think he's a great coach, but I think all of our guys are great coaches. But, we've got to coach better."
He did call the team's failure to run the football his biggest disappointment.
"Really, we're built — and we philosophically believe — in being a rough, tough, physical offense that can run the football," Harbaugh said. "That's the way we started, and that hasn't changed. No matter where you go with the passing game, that has got to be a staple of what we're going to do. And it wasn't this year. … We tried like crazy, but we didn't put it together this year."
With the organization not part of the playoffs for the first time since 2007, Harbaugh said that the Ravens' brain trust, which includes owner Steve Bisciotti, team president Dick Cass, general manager Ozzie Newsome, assistant general manager Eric DeCosta and senior vice president of football administration Pat Moriarty, will meet at Bisciotti's Florida home in a couple of weeks to discuss personnel, the salary cap and other big-picture issues.
In the mean time, Harbaugh and his staff are currently working through a "thorough self-examination" of the team's offensive and defensive schemes and the Ravens' personnel. Harbaugh said that "everything is going to be on the table" as far as personnel and scheme changes, and that is particularly true with the offensive line.
Both tackles — Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher — are free agents, starting left guard Kelechi Osemele will be coming off back surgery and center Gino Gradkowski struggled for much of the season though Harbaugh said that he saw "major progress" in Gradkowski's first season as a starter. Only right guard Marshal Yanda is entrenched at a starting position along the line.
"I think there will be a competitive situation pretty much at every spot on the offensive line except right guard," Harbaugh said.
Harbaugh, however, wouldn't put all the blame on the offensive line, which dealt with the retirement of center Matt Birk, a season-ending injury to Osemele and the in-season acquisition of Monroe after left tackle Bryant McKinnie faltered.
He acknowledged that the Ravens' ground attack was affected by the health problems of Ray Rice, who rushed for just 660 yards, ranking 30th in the NFL. Harbaugh said that he met with Rice Tuesday morning and the three-time Pro Bowl selection vowed to come back strong.
"My expectations for Ray Rice are to be one of the very best running backs in the National Football League," Harbaugh said. "That's the standard for Ray. … When he says he's going to come back in the best shape of his life and be better than ever, I'm confident that he's going to do exactly that."
Harbaugh also expressed confidence that the Ravens' passing game would rebound. The Ravens finished 18th in the NFL in passing yards per game (224) and Flacco's 22 interceptions were three more than any quarterback in team history had ever thrown.
Harbaugh admitted that the team struggled to fill Dennis Pitta's role with the tight end missing the first 12 games with a hip injury, and never did find an adequate replacement for veteran wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a sixth-round pick in March.
While saying that he thinks adding another wide receiver could be a priority, the head coach made clear that the group's struggles weren't just a personnel issue.
"We were not as good in the passing game as we need to be. We were not on," Harbaugh said. "I think Joe uses the word, 'We're off.' We're just a little off, too often. Whether it's the way a route is run, whether it's accuracy, whether it's the way a play is read out, the way it's organized when it's called, the protection, the [hot routes], we never got that together the way we need to. And if we're going to be what we need to be going forward, we have to go to work on getting that done. It's not going to start in [organized team activities], it's got to start well before that."
To Harbaugh, there's no time like the present.
"I'm not real happy about having the time [now], but we're going to make the most of it," he said. "It goes to the draft, it goes to free agency, and it goes to building our system, scheme-wise. Those are all the things that we'll go to work on right now."
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