Q&A; with The Sun's Mike Preston

THE BALTIMORE SUN

Sun columnist Mike Preston answers selected questions during the NFL season. His Q&A; sessions will resume later in the year.

Anthony, Clarksville: Since the Ravens' season is officially over, are you going to ask Coach Billick for a ride on his boat? It is time for you two to bury the hatchet, at least for this year. Mike Preston: Anthony, I think you're either related to Billick or he put you up to this. He knows I can't swim. You guys are setting me up. He wants to push me overboard. I could die. Worse yet, we might get shipwrecked, and we'd be stuck on the same island alone together.

Seriously, Brian and I have the ideal relationship. He is a coach who tells me how to write, and I'm a writer who tells him how to coach. Perfect.

Stuart, Lindenwold, N.J.: With the Ravens having one loss too many for the playoffs, which loss was the worst? Also, do you think this offense may (gulp) take a step backward if the players have to learn a new system?

Mike Preston: The Bengals loss was the absolute worst. The Ravens had a 20-3 lead after three quarters, and gave up three fourth-quarter touchdowns at home. They lost to a Bengals team coached by former Ravens defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis and owned by Mike Brown, who has no love for former Ravens majority owner Art Modell.

As far as taking any steps backward, the Ravens can't because this offense has been running in reverse for so long. It's been like watching the Keystone Cops, only in reverse. It will take some time for adjustment with a new offensive coordinator coming in, but I think Billick will make the transition as easy as possible. A lot depends on if Billick and the new coordinator have similar ideas and schemes, and on how they translate terms and verbiage to the players.

Michael, New Orleans: Mr. Preston, do you think any other coaches will be fired, David Shaw or Johnnie Lynn? Shaw can't develop a wide receiver nor help Boller, and Lynn can't get [Gary] Baxter and [Chris] McAlister to play.

Mike Preston: Cavanaugh is gone, a good move for everybody -- the team, Matt, the fans. It was time. In fact, it was about three years overdue. I think receivers coach David Shaw is next on the hit list. He has virtually nothing to show on his resume here, and with such promising young receivers on the squad like Devard Darling and Clarence Moore, the Ravens really need a talented assistant at this position.

As for Johnnie Lynn, he needs more time. It's hard to come in the first season after replacing Donnie Henderson and try to make a huge impact. Sometimes it's better to just observe, feel these guys out and then get more involved the next season. With McAlister signing this season and Baxter hopefully getting a deal in the offseason, both will come in with clear minds and play better in 2005. Lynn, though, could use a little more fire in his approach, maybe throw around a few more expletives every once and a while.

Another key is that Billick has to bring his offensive coaching staff together. He really never gave running backs coach Matt Simon and offensive line coach Jim Colletto a shot at the offensive coordinator's job. They weren't happy.

Joshua, Baltimore: We all know that the offense needs help. I am encouraged by the play of "Your Man Kyle," [Randy] Hymes and [Clarence] Moore, but let's be realistic. If the Ravens are looking for a new coach on offense, who's out there?

Mike Preston: Word has it that Minnesota offensive coordinator Scott Linehan is the top man on Billick's list, even though Jim Fassel will also be given major consideration pending his head coach search. There are other quality candidates like New Orleans receivers coach Mike Sheppard and Eagles senior assistant Marty Mornhinweg. This is a great opportunity for this organization.

With Cavanaugh here, I never thought "My Man" Kyle would develop much past where he is now. There has not been a great history with quarterbacks under the guidance of both Billick and Cavanaugh. But now I have more optimism about "My Man" Kyle. He has the physical tools and works hard, but I'm still concerned about his accuracy because you can't coach that. But at least there is hope some of the other offensive problems can be resolved enough to give "My Man" Kyle a more level playing field and a better chance of winning.

Michael, Towson: Is there any way in the offseason for the Ravens to sign a defensive player and trade him to a team in order to get a quality wide receiver?

Mike Preston: There is always a way, but I wouldn't bet on it. This is the NFL, not MLB. Trades don't happen often. I think the Ravens go via the draft to find a quality wide receiver because there doesn't appear to be a lot on the free agent market. If Darling and Moore get into the weight room and they get some quality coaching, they'll be decent. They won't have the impact of a Randy Moss or Terrell Owens, but not many do.

Tom, Grandview Heights, Ohio: I stand the risk of being beaten senseless, but I will suggest this anyway. I think we should actively pursue trading Ray Lewis this offseason for a wide receiver. Furthermore, I think that the Arizona Cardinals are the likely "perfect suitor" for this deal. They are in the NFC. Dennis Green would love to have the coach on the field that Ray brings. They have two young budding star WRs [Anquan] Boldin and [Larry] Fitzgerald. We all know that Ray still has 2-3 years left, but [Ed] Hartwell, [Terrell] Suggs, [Peter] Boulware, et. al. could sufficiently fill the defensive void. We've got to get a primary threat to develop our offense and balance the team. Let the beatings begin.

Mike Preston: Tom, you're lucky you don't live in Baltimore. What's wrong with you? You been hanging around Ricky Williams or what? Trade Ray? I'd trade my momma first. There are people in this town who would give up their firstborn before allowing Ray to go. But as stupid, dumb and goofy as you think you sound, I've heard similar suggestions from other general managers around the league. It will be interesting to see what happens with Lewis and his negotiations with the team about a contract extension. Lewis has three years remaining but wants a new deal. The club would like to oblige him, especially with all he has done for the franchise, but they also see a player on the downside. If he doesn't get a contract, Ray might ask for a trade. The Ravens might want to be entertained because if they re-sign Ray, they might not be able to sign some of the team's prominent free agents.

But until then Tom, don't come to Baltimore. You might be getting an invitation to go out on Billick's boat soon, too.

Letarsha, Baltimore: Is there any way the Ravens would be able to keep Ed Hartwell and Gary Baxter for the 2005 season?

Mike Preston: Word has it that Gary Baxter and the Ravens are still several million apart, but the Ravens plan to re-sign Baxter before free agency begins. Ed Hartwell will probably draw top-dollar offers in free agency and price himself out of the Ravens' market. He may have played his last game Sunday in a Ravens uniform.

Michael, Blue Bell, Pa.: Controlling the line of scrimmage was a big problem this year. Considering the success of Dwight Freeney, why won't the Ravens consider moving Suggs to DE, putting together some combo of the remaining linemen to fill out a 4-3 scheme and go with [Adalius] Thomas, Lewis and Boulware as your linebackers? I like Hartwell but have to let him walk to sign some free agent OL or secondary help.

Mike Preston: Defense was not a major problem for the Ravens this season. The group played well enough to get into the playoffs. The 4-3 is not the end-all answer for this team. To play that defense, you better have two great defensive tackles who are not only talented, but unselfish because they have to sacrifice their bodies in order to keep linemen off the middle linebacker. The Ravens don't currently have those inside guys. In order to run a 4-3, the Ravens would have to change a large part of this team, alter a lot of salaries and get rid of some promising young players. The current scheme is solid. It needs some tweaking, but there is a solid foundation mixed with some good, young players.

Tony, Granite: If you could be the GM of the Ravens this off-season, what three moves would you make and what players would you go after/try to keep the most? Thanks for your time.

Mike Preston: My first move would be to bring in Beyonce as my assistant GM. (Is that brilliant or what?) And I already agree with the Ravens as far as two moves they've made. First, they fired Cavanaugh. And, Billick said Monday at his press conference that he probably underestimated the youth of this team. Translation: He acknowledged he should have had more control of his team and locker room, and gave the players too much rope. That's good, because he identified the problem and will try to solve it. This team, particularly Billick, is very good at analyzing, sometimes to a fault. But at least they're moving in the right direction.

As for players, I would definitely try to find a big-time receiver and some versatile, athletic offensive linemen. Next on the list is a big, wide-body defensive lineman who can rush the passer as well as play run defense, and then try to find a couple of cornerbacks.

Sean, Columbia: I know it's still a few months away, but who do you think the Ravens should take with their first-round pick in the 2005 NFL draft?

Mike Preston: You're right. The draft is still a few months away. Shoot, I'm just getting over all the hoopla about Cavanaugh and my invitation to the Billick Love Boat. Write me back during the first week of April. Peace. Happy New Year. P.S. - Is that you, Mel Kiper?

Michael, Albany, N.Y.: In the past, you have written that the Ravens' poor play-calling and clock management costs them four to five games a year. I agree with that assessment. My question to you is how many games a year do you think are won by the Ravens' coaching staff?

Mike Preston: Every win is won by the coaching staff. For the most part, I think the Ravens are extremely well-prepared emotionally and physically for most games. I don't, however, think they make good halftime adjustments, and my heart flutters whenever they have to hold a lead or score a touchdown in the last two minutes of a game. You just feel more comfortable when the defense is on the field. But again, overall, you can't complain about the coaching of this team. Billick's record is good, and finally, he got it right by changing coordinators.

Jake, Hagerstown: Have you been ostracized by either the Ravens organization or the players for being so candid about the team's problems? It seems a number of fans do not want to hear anything critical about the team, either. So, have you been warned to "turn down the heat" on your comments?

Mike Preston: First of all, Jake, tell some of the guys up there in the Ravens Roost I apologize for predicting the Ravens would make it to the AFC championship game. Somebody must have spiked my purple Kool-Aid last August. Now, as for your original question, no one has ever told me to turn it down or turn it up. You write what you see and what you feel. If they can't handle it, turn the page or turn the channel. Some people consider sports life and death. It's not. It's just a game, and I'll continue to have fun with it and treat it as such.

One other note: I'm really going to turn it up next year.

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