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Q&A; with The Sun's Mike Preston

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sun columnist Mike Preston answers selected questions every Tuesday during the NFL season.

Greg, Jacksonville, Fla.: Clarence Moore is a sissy. Once again he cost us by not completing a route. Is this guy tough enough to be a go-to guy in this league? Is it true that Matt Cavanaugh might leave to coach at Pitt? Hallelujah!

Mike Preston: Greg, calling a man a sissy is fighting words. Moore would like to spar with you, but his T-Rex arms are too short. He's a rookie, and the Ravens have gotten much more than expected out of the sixth-round pick from Northern Arizona. Moore could be a great one someday. He needs to be coached and have a strong off-season in the weight room. A trip to Oz might help, too. It worked for that lion fella.

Dave, Baltimore: I believe this offense needs to change somehow or they aren't winning any playoff games. What do you think?

Mike Preston: This offense has enough talent to win now. They just have to stick with running the ball and stay with the game plan. Never have I seen a team that calls itself a running team get away from its strength so quickly. On several of those short-yardage situations against the Colts, you just have to let Lewis bang it out instead of relying on "My Man" Kyle. At this point, you would have to say the Ravens have underachieved.

Zac, Baltimore: How can the Ravens be so stupid to not kick a FG when they are clearly in range and down by 10 points inside the two-minute warning? Also, there were numerous times on second and third-and-short that clearly we should should have run the ball right at them. Finally, there were numerous lacks in concentration when the game was on the line (see Casey Rabach illegaly downfield and three consecutive illegal contact penalties). There is not another team in football that has as much talent as the Ravens do when they are healthy and there should be no reason for these miscues. Who gets blamed for the lapses and what are the consequences? Someone needs to call Billick out on his poor management of a game.

Mike Preston: Calm down, big guy. I suggest you take a sedative that the FDA hasn't taken off the shelf recently and repeat to yourself: "It's only a game. It's only a game. It's only a game." You're right about the coaching staff not being able to manage a game. They just don't have a feel. They're concerned more about statistics and tendencies instead of relying on their gut and what is working. They want to be cute instead of physical. Jamal Lewis could have run for more than 200 yards against the Colts, but the Ravens panic as soon as they get behind by 10 points. Over the years, I've called offensive assistants out more than Bob Barker has called guests to 'Come on Down' on the Price is Right. If the Ravens don't get to the playoffs, I suspect this team might have a new offensive coordinator. But for more information, read on. P.S. Zac, this is not a tease. Take a leap of faith with me.

Bill, Perry Hall: With Ray Lewis, Jon Ogden and Chris McAlister showing signs of aging, how do we build for the future under the duress of thier big-time, long-term contracts?

Mike Preston: Let's not put these guys in the nursing homes yet. There are circumstances where two of the three might get better. In Ogden's case, he needed a challenge. He has been so good for so long. He got married during the off-season. He has admitted he didn't come to training camp in his usual great shape. He missed time with an ankle injury and then a hamstring pull. It's obvious that his hamstring hasn't fully healed. Ogden has great pride. The beating he took Sunday night will disturb him for quite a while. I suspect that might be the fire he needs to get into great shape next year. He now has a challenge. He has several good years left, but has to become more of a workaholic in the off-season, much like Ray Lewis and former Raven Shannon Sharpe.

As for McAlister, the Ravens might need to rehire former Ravens secondary coach Donnie Henderson. They need a master of head games, because no one over at the Ravens can reach McAlister. He's the tenth planet in the solar system. But if the Ravens find the right guy, coach or player, McAlister has the talent to re-establish himself as one of the best cornerbacks in the league.

In Lewis's case, the ability is fading, but he has two, possibly three good years remaining. He won't play to the level of 2000, but he still will be one of the best in the game.

The Ravens need "My Man" Kyle to develop quickly and improve their offense before it's too late. The window for success hasn't closed yet, but there is a lot less light shining in the room these days.

Zachary, Ann Arbor, Mich.: Why is it that the Colts go into the locker room at half and make adjustments to play against our defense but we cannot make adjustments to slow Dwight Freeney until the final drive? Also, the dropped passes are ridiculous. Can't the coaches try to make Boller's job easier? The coaches of the Ravens cannot ride on the talent of their players every game and eventually need to make the players play as a cohesive unit that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Mike Preston: A couple of weeks ago, Ravens head coach Brian Billick said halftime adjustments are overrated. Maybe it's because the Ravens don't make any. I kept wondering why they didn't have a tight end or a running back chip on Freeney to help Ogden. Dropped passes are a matter of either concentration or technique such as hand placement. With Travis Taylor, he seems to have trouble with hand placement. With Moore, it's just a matter of being tired because he isn't used to playing a season this long.

The Ravens can't make anything easier for "My Man" Kyle. He often throws short passes to his primary target. The problem is that "My Man" Kyle can't look off receivers yet, and is still one dimensional. But I won't say anything bad about "My Man" Kyle. I won't say that on that last interception he threw against the Colts (where he stared down the receiver for a long time), that I thought about drinking a cup of coffee, running down to the locker room, putting on a Colts uniform and then picking off the pass myself. Talk about telegraphing? Western Union doesn't offer that kind of service. Instead, he's still the truth, the answer, a work in progress, potential Hall of Famer. By the way, seats are still available on the Super Bowl train to Jacksonville.

Will, Cincinnati: Is it time to admit that the Ravens are not an elite team with an overpaid defensive back, horrible recievers (that couldn't make it in a coed flag league), and a horrible offensive coordinator? Will and when are changes going to take place?

Mike Preston: The Ravens are not an elite team, McAlister is overpaid (so far), the receiving corps can be talented if they find a coach and offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh might be on the way out. If he's lucky, Cavanaugh might become the new head coach at the University of Pittsburgh. If not, and the Ravens don't make the playoffs, he might be unemployed. Somebody has to take the fall for a team with eight Pro Bowlers not making the playoffs. Injuries can't be used as an excuse. Everybody has them. The Ravens have to find someone who can make this offense more cohesive and squeeze out more production.

(Note to Zac, of Baltimore): I came through. Thanks for taking that leap with me.

Ray: Where is Trent Smith? Is he still on the Ravens' roster and will he play next year? Is he any good?

Mike Preston: Trent Smith is on the two-year rehab mission after suffering a broken leg during the 2003 preseason. He's still over at Owings Mills, working out and lifting weights, but he's on injured reserve. The Ravens still like him and are impressed by his pass catching abilities.

Chris: Two questions. First, how much do you think we miss Donnie Henderson? The secondary doesn't seem to be the same since he left, and he's doing an incredible job with the Jets. Second, how much do you think we miss Peter Boulware? [Terrell] Suggs is getting pressure, but he's double teamed constantly. I envision blockers having a much tougher time bottling up him and Suggs than just worrying about Suggs.

Mike Preston: The Ravens miss Henderson immensely. Not only could he manage and control McAlister, but he had a strong relationship with players. Henderson could love you one minute and cuss you out the next. I may get ex-communicated from my church for this, but sometimes you just got to drop a couple of expletive bombs on players to get them to perform. After all, this is pro football, not the Boy Scouts.

Secondly, the Ravens wanted Boulware to return to give them a force on both perimeters. Adalius Thomas has had an outstanding year replacing Boulware, but he can't bring the heat on pass rushing situations like Boulware. Boulware would have been the fresh pair of legs the team desperately needs.

Tom, Philadelphia: The way I see it, the Ravens have an abundance of recievers (including tight ends) with a lot of potential, but not one who is at an elite level, except of course Todd Heap. Players like Devard Darling, Trent Smith, Ron Johnson, Kevin Johnson, Terry Jones, Daniel Wilcox, Randy Hymes, and Darnell Dinkins seem to be all second or third tier (if they have played at all in the NFL, unlike the first two). What are the Ravens off-season plans regarding this group? Could they put together a trade of three or four projects for a proven all-star? The recieving corps clearly needs improvement, but how can this be accomplished without losing players who will benefit the team in the future? Thanks for your time.

Mike Preston: You're right. They don't have a legitimate No. 1 receiver among the crew. But it's a young group, and if developed properly, it could be very good. There's not much on the free agent market. With Marvin Harrison and Brandon Stokley both getting contract extensions, Travis Taylor will be one of the most attractive free agents on the market. Yep, you read correctly - Travis Taylor. The Ravens need to bring in a quality receivers coach to work with these guys. Again, I've been impressed with the potential talent. As far as trades, there aren't many in the NFL anymore. Draft picks are cherished. If Devard Darling and Moore have strong off-seasons in the weight room, this group has a good future.

Dave, North East: Do you think the Ravens are the only NFL team whose kicker has a weekly TV show? And shouldn't that tell us everything we need to know about the team's offensive stars?

Mike Preston: Actually, he has a weekly radio show. I agree. It says a lot about this offense. Now, if long snapper Joe Maese gets his own show, we're really in trouble.

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