The Ravens' offensive line has been hit hard by numerous injuries this season, but the unit has showed steady improvement throughout the year. A large part of the success can be traced to a hire the Ravens made in March when Greg Roman was added to the coaching staff.
Roman, who had spent time with the Carolina Panthers and Houston Texans before joining the Ravens, became the team's assistant offensive line coach, working under Chris Foerster, the Ravens' offensive line/assistant head coach.
While most of Foerster's time has been spent working with the first unit, Roman was working with the younger group that included guards Jason Brown, Chris Chester and tackle Adam Terry. Chester is a rookie, and both Brown and Terry are second-year players. All three could start for the Ravens tomorrow against the Buffalo Bils.
"I think more and more that having two offensive line coaches is becoming the norm," Foerster said. "I think over the course of time there are great demands in getting the first team ready in practice. I'm watching the offense and when they're finished, I'm having to spend the time with Mike Flynn and Jonathan Ogden talking about what happened.
"Meanwhile, the practice guys are out there working against the defense, and somebody needs to keep an eye on them and what they're doing. So if we can have a second coach spend a little time with them, it helps them develop. Whenever the switchover occurs, those guys can get neglected."
According to general manager Ozzie Newsome, the team used two offensive line coaches in Cleveland, which helped the Browns to produce young linemen like Orlando Brown and Wally Williams, who eventually became starters when the team moved to Baltimore for the 1996 season.
At the midway point of this season, it appeared that fourth-year fullback Ovie Mughelli had no chance of being re-signed. Mughelli's contract expires at the end of the season when he becomes a free agent. But he has played well in the past seven games, and has become a big part of the offense.
Mughelli's stats aren't staggering, but most fullbacks' stats aren't. Mughelli has developed significantly as a lead blocker for halfback Jamal Lewis, and has 10 carries for 46 yards. He also has caught two touchdown passes, and that apparently has become a source of jokes in the locker room. When he scores a touchdown on the road, stadium announcers can't pronounce Mughelli's last name.
"I laugh at it myself," Mughelli said. "Guys are laughing at me when I get back to the huddle.
"I just feel blessed to touch the ball because most fullbacks don't get a chance to touch the ball. I've been surprised that Coach [Brian] Billick has let me be a big part of the offense. But once I showed him what I can do, I understand why he wants to give me the ball."
There could be as many as six head coaching jobs that open up as soon as next week. Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan will be on a number of short lists, but don't expect him to jump at any job. In the past, Billick and Newsome have done a good job of steering their assistant coaches away from taking the head position with poorly run organizations.
The Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, New York Giants and Atlanta Falcons are stable organizations that might have openings. Former Ravens director of player personnel and director of scouting Phil Savage is the general manager of the Browns and worked closely with Ryan while scouting defensive players in the draft. Savage also might try to lure Iowa coach Kirk Ferentz away from the Hawkeyes if Cleveland decides to fire Romeo Crennel.
Another former Ravens assistant who has become a candidate for a head coaching job is Mike Smith, currently the defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. Smith was a defensive assistant with the Ravens from 1999 through 2002.
Sooner or later, it was going to happen. Most No. 1 receivers complain about not getting enough passes thrown their way, and the outspoken Derrick Mason sent out his message earlier this week.
I like Mason. He is a great competitor. Last year after losses he would often chew out the team before Billick spoke, and he wouldn't hesitate to tell Billick about his poor offensive game plans.
But this time, he's off base. Mason is catching fewer passes this season because quarterback Steve McNair is spreading the ball around. Mason has 63 catches for 720 yards. Tight end Todd Heap has 68 for 705 and receiver Mark Clayton has 65 for 913. The Ravens actually have balance and a legitimate passing offense.
If the Ravens were struggling, I could understand his complaints. But with a 12-3 record, there's nothing to feel slighted about. If Mason needs a few more catches, try fishing.
Ravens defensive tackle Trevor Pryce expressed the sentiment of this team when asked about how much he wants a first-round bye. The Ravens have a lot of key veterans with eight or nine years of playing experience.
"I'm old, I need it," said Pryce, 31, who is in his 10th season.
Here's how the Bills game will play out tomorrow.
Buffalo's J.P. Losman is a decent quarterback, but his offensive line is terrible. The unit has given up 44 sacks, and the Ravens will totally confuse this offensive line with all the movement up front.
On defense, the Bills have a small front seven and the Ravens will pound the ball. Once the running game clicks, the Ravens will mix in the play-action passes and this game will be over. The Bills will give the Ravens a lot of different looks both offensively and defensively because they have nothing to lose in this game, but it won't help.
Bring on the bye week.
Read Mike Preston's Ravens Central blog at baltimoresun.com/ravenscentral