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On balance, McNair a key addition


The addition of quarterback Steve McNair gives the Ravens hope, a leader, a warrior at the game's toughest position and, maybe most of all, some balance.

In coach Brian Billick's seven seasons in Baltimore, he has stressed balance between the run and the pass. The Ravens haven't had it because of a dominant running game that featured halfback Jamal Lewis behind a mammoth offensive line.

But with McNair as a threat as a passer, the Ravens probably will see fewer seven- and eight-man fronts, at least at the beginning of the season. The Ravens also will give more different looks than their standard two-back set, including going with H-back Daniel Wilcox.

"Its personnel grouping [using the H-back] gives us the most flexibility," Ravens offensive coordinator Jim Fassel said. "There's a few runs we can't run and a few passes we may not favor, but it does give us the best blend of run and pass.

"We'll still be regular with a fullback because we know what kind of running backs Jamal and Mike Anderson are, but H-back gives us a lot of options. We can go with two tight ends, keeping Todd Heap inside, or moving Dan on the outside. Dan Wilcox is versatile and extremely smart. We should be able to do a lot of things."

But there won't be a major overhaul. Thus far in two minicamps, the Ravens have kept it simple, actually reducing the number of plays they run compared to last season. The emphasis has been on running a smaller number of plays, but using more formations.

Overall, that should help McNair.

Billick made a smart move by disciplining his players and having them run sprints after several fights in practice Wednesday. For one or two fights, especially in training camp when it gets hot, you let it slide. But three, that's when you put the hammer down.

That's exactly what this team needs.

In the past, Billick would have talked to the players, but nothing would have changed. But he definitely got their attention Wednesday when they had to run sprints from sideline to sideline. Athletes on any level understand one universal language: Run, son, run.

And it was great that Billick reminded the players that a lack of discipline cost the Ravens in a 35-17 loss to the Detroit Lions last year when two players were ejected, and four were fined by the league after the team committed 21 penalties.

Now, here's another move Billick must make. There's a rift between his offensive and defensive coaching staffs. The defensive guys think the offensive group needs to put more time in the office and work harder.

That needs to be addressed before training camp starts.

Outside linebacker Bart Scott has a different focus. After years as a reserve and full-time special teams player, his role has changed.

"Starting takes a little stress off me," said Scott, entering his fifth season. "Now, I just have to be concerned about football, not the other stuff. This just lets me come out and focus on my craft because I'm with the first group."

Scott became a starter when middle linebacker Ray Lewis was sidelined because of a hamstring injury during the sixth game of the 2005 season. Scott finished with 119 tackles, second best on the team behind Tommy Polley's 134. It was Scott's first opportunity to play consistently, and he made the most of it.

Scott had a chance to sign a free-agent deal with the Cleveland Browns during the offseason, but he opted to re-sign with the Ravens. He'll still play on special teams, but in a limited role.

Dan Cody's rookie season of 2005 consisted of spending a lot of time in team meeting rooms and watching his teammates play on TV. Cody's season ended on the first day of training camp when he tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

There was some speculation he might have limited workouts during minicamp, but he hasn't missed a repetition. He appears to be in excellent shape, and the Ravens like his versatility. Cody can play end or outside linebacker. Because of his size, he also can be a pass rusher as a tackle on third down. The Ravens should be able to supply a lot of pressure off the edges with Cody, end Trevor Pryce and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs.

"The most amazing thing is how quickly time went by," said Cody, a second-round pick out of Oklahoma. "It does feel like I'm starting over again even though I've been here for a year. Even though I've been in the meeting rooms, you really don't gain confidence until you can go out on the field and use what you have learned. But each practice now, I'm getting more and more reps. I've done everything I needed to do, and the knee feels good. I'm ready to play."

A quick observation of McNair:

As expected, he looked fairly ragged on his first day. Actually, he brought back frightening memories of Jim Harbaugh's opening practice here in 1998, when Harbaugh short-armed everything and receiver Michael Jackson whispered this gem in my ear: "I felt like Cal Ripken out there short-hopping all those balls out of the dirt."

My immediate thought was that the Ravens were cursed at the position. But, as expected, McNair got better and became more accurate. He had more bounce in his legs and quicker feet than you would expect from a player his age and one who has suffered so many injuries. He's a competitor, and you had to love the anger he showed when he couldn't find a receiver open, or may have missed the proper read.

After one week with Harbaugh, you could sense the Ravens were in trouble. After a few days with McNair, you know he's going to get better and just had to shake off some rust.


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