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Ravens Q&A with Mike Preston

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Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston checks in for an offseason edition of his Q&A, answering your questions about the Ravens.


You often talk about the watered-down level of the players because of the 32 teams that now operate in the NFL. what is the watered-down effect on coordinators and head coaches? Are there enough qualified coaches to go around in the NFL? -- John D.

John, I reference the watered-down NFL on several levels: players, officiating, and quality of the game. All three factors affect the overall product.

In my opinion, there are not 32 quality starting quarterbacks in the NFL.

My evidence is the number of quarterbacks drafted in the first two rounds every year. Teams are constantly searching for the next Johnny Unitas, Joe Montana, Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers. More often than not, they end up with Kyle Boller, Akili Smith, and Brady Quinn.

To take it a step further, in this pass-happy version of the NFL, how many true No. 1 receivers do you have? Maybe 20. The Ravens don't have a true No. 1 receiver. And are there 20 true lockdown cornerbacks to cover those No. 1 receivers? Absolutely not!

There are plenty of quality players in the NFL. There are very few great players, which leads to a watered-down product.

The officiating has gotten worse as the rules have gotten more complex. In other words, there is too much room for personal opinion with officiating. A good, hard, clean hit draws a flag, even though the tackle was legal, because it looks too violent. If you asked every official in the NFL to define pass interference, you would get a different answer from each individual.

The quality of the game suffers when you put those two factors together. There are some games that are just hard to watch when the talent level does not exist or the officials throw a flag every other play.

However, to answer your question, there is a major difference between the talent level of players on the field and the talent level of the people on the sidelines. There are so many different systems and people who use them that there will always be quality coaches available.

Also, you have more players staying in the game after their playing career is over to coach.

I don’t want to make it sound as if I think coaching is easier, but I think it is easier to find good coaching than good players.


Do you think the Ravens are partial to University of Alabama players because of Ozzie Newsome's connection, or do you think the Alabama players we drafted really were the best players available in the draft at that time? -- Rocco

Rocco, read the whole Q&A.

When you say that Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome is partial to Alabama players, you make it sound like the Ravens only draft from the Crimson Tide.

Look at the history. Since 1996, the Ravens have drafted six players from Alabama. That is one selection every three years. If Newsome shows preferential treatment to anything, it is his draft board. The Ravens stick to their board better than any other team in the NFL.


With veterans like Haloti Ngata and Terrell Suggs beginning to show signs of slowing down, would the Ravens consider shifting to a 4-3 defense in a couple years? -- RaelRaven, Delmar

The Ravens have always played defense based on the strength of the individual players on the team.

The quality of defensive coaches brought in by the Ravens, as asked by John D. above, has been outstanding. They have groomed successors, stashed them as wide receiver coaches, and always restocked when the staff is pillaged by other teams.

The Ravens have shown that, if they need to use a 4-3, 3-4, 46, or organized chaos, they will. It is just quality coaching, and getting the most out of the talent you have.


I'd like to hear your opinion on the role of a backup QB.  It seems to me that a backup QB is very different from, say, a backup RB.  Specifically, the goal of a backup QB isn't to give opposing defenses "different looks" from play-to-play, but instead, to step in successfully and for as long as necessary, should the starting QB go down with an injury. This being the case, it seems to me that we'd want a backup QB to have the same basic skill set as our starter (i.e., a cannon-armed, pocket passer) to cause the least disruption for our own offense, given that the playbook and offensive personnel selection have been matched to exploit these same skills. And I'm not sure we have that kind of backup QB currently in place. Your thoughts? -- Scott L., Great Falls, Va.

Scott, I agree with you. If you have a pocket QB, then you should probably have a pocket QB as a backup.

I think the Ravens have started to realize that with Tyrod Taylor. He is a great athlete, but he is not a great quarterback. Check the stats when he has played.

I thought the Ravens had the right idea when they brought in Marc Bulger as the backup a few years ago. I would look for them to sign someone after June 1 to be the new backup.

Teams like to have scramblers as backups because they are usually stop gap performers and can make plays with their legs because they haven't gotten a lot of reps in practice.

I do understand that approach as well.


If the Ravens don’t draft a right tackle, do you think Ricky Wagner can handle the position? -- Brian M.

No, I do not believe that Wagner can handle the right tackle position, at least not right now.

I think the best solution for the Ravens is to move Kelechi Osemele to right tackle and select a quality guard in the first two rounds.

Wagner needs another year in the weight room and also needs more foot speed.

See below.


If it's not an OT, I'd like to see the Ravens add an impact defensive player (D-line, FS, CB). What players on that side of the ball could the Ravens target? -- Mike Z., Oakland, Calif.

The Ravens will not be getting Jadeveon Clowney or Khalil Mack, the two consensus best defensive players in this draft. The second layer of defensive talent is C.J. Mosley, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Darqueze Dennard, and Calvin Pryor, but they could all be gone prior to the Ravens' selection.

My personal belief is that the Ravens will trade down. This draft is being referenced as extremely deep, and I believe the Ravens would like to get a few more picks.

There have been crazy rumors of the Ravens trying to pick up an extra first-round pick for next year, but I will not go that extreme.

I think it is likely that they will drop back into the No. 24 to No. 28 range and get another pick or two and still get someone who can impact the offensive line this year, such as Cyrus Kouandjio from Alabama. (You know how Ozzie has a preference for those Alabama kids!)

Kouandjio played left tackle at Alabama, but he does not appear to have the footwork needed to transition to the same position in the NFL. He could be a left guard (or a right tackle), and that would serve the Ravens much better with their stated emphasis on getting bigger along the interior of the offensive line.

In the second round, there is the possibility for Timmy Jernigan, a high-motor defensive tackle; Keith McGill, a tall cornerback who could pair well on the outside with Jimmy smith; or Jimmie Ward, a safety with a nose for the ball (lots of blocked punts, sound familiar?).

Who am I kidding, they are taking AJ McCarron in the second round. You know Ozzie has a preference for those Alabama kids.


Hello Mike, Ozzie hasn't drafted a Pro Bowler since (Ray Rice) in 2008, and the last impact player he drafted was Torrey Smith in 2011. Jimmy Smith is just starting to show life. I believe most of his drafts since 2009-2013 have been average to below-average. So why should we think this year will be any different? -- Antonio, Forestville

Antonio, I think you lost the point to the NFL. The Lombardi Trophy is the goal, not the number of players in the Pro Bowl.

The drafts you referenced produced Michael Oher, Paul Kruger, Lardarius Webb, Terrence Cody, Ed Dickson, Dennis Pitta, Arthur Jones, Jimmy Smith, Torrey Smith, Pernell McPhee, Courtney Upshaw, Kelechi Osemele and Bernard Pierce.

Of the 13 players listed, seven started in the Super Bowl and all but Webb (injury) played. That is quality construction of a team through the draft.

So what are you really looking for, postseason awards or trophies? I bet if you asked Pro Bowlers Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata and Todd Heap, they would all want to be in more Super Bowls than Pro Bowls.


Does the lack of depth concern you in the secondary? I feel that will be a weakness this year. -- Justin C.

I would say yes, and in today's NFL, that is a problem. However, the Ravens have Webb, Jimmy Smith, and Matt Elam coming back for a solid foundation.

Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown have been in the system for a couple years. Obviously, they need to add a few more guys, and that will happen in the draft and after the June 1 cuts.


What do you think the chances are that we pick up Terrance West in the third round? -- Dylan D.

I would prefer to see the Ravens select an offensive lineman or two, a safety, a cornerback, and a maybe another wide receiver above running back in this draft.

The Ravens need to address the position, and it would not surprise me to see a running back taken in the third or fourth round. It all depends on how the early portion of the draft shakes out.

If they can stockpile a few more picks, then West is a possibility.


Gary Kubiak was and is known as an offensive expert, with a statistically proven offensive track record (zone-blocking, 2 TE sets, etc.). Everyone keeps talking about his scheme, and now he has brought his scheme, coaches (and some players) to Baltimore ... because he was fired in Houston. Is it too far-fetched to believe his number was 'up' last year in Houston, and that there is now a certain level of predictability to his game plan? Is it just 'rinse-and-repeat' now with a new Ravens team? After the offensive woes of last year, a predictable offense (by the third game) is the last thing this team needs going forward. -- Kevin R.

That is one of the many questions heading into this season.

I don’t think it was Kubiak’s number being up as much as Matt Schaub just not cutting it any longer. A second factor was the injury to Arian Foster. A major piece of your offense gets taken away, and the unit struggles. Sound familiar (Anquan Boldin)?

The biggest question for me is how will Kubiak’s West Coast offense work with Joe Flacco.

Flacco, as described by Scott L. above, is a cannon-armed, pocket guy. He is mobile to an extent, and does well when rolling out of the pocket.

That being said, (spoiler alert) Flacco is not an accurate passer.

The West Coast offense is predicated on a short, accurate passing style that moves the chains. It is baseball season, so think of a guy who has a high on-base percentage, draws walks, and hits for average.

Flacco is more of a home run hitter with a high strikeout rate.

See potential for a problem there? 

This past season showed that Flacco cannot carry a team. You can win with him, but you will rarely win solely because of him. The Ravens have recognized that and restocked the offense. They added Steve Smith, Owen Daniels and Jeremy Zuttah for some new looks. They kept Dennis Pitta and Eugene Monroe for some continuity. 

Kubiak's system works. It did in Denver and Houston. The Ravens have added players to help make sure it will work in Baltimore.

Can the $120 million Super Bowl Most Valuable Player make it work?

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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