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McGahee spreads offense

The Baltimore Sun

When running back Willis McGahee stepped into Ravens headquarters yesterday, the landscape of the team's offense changed.

Coach Brian Billick talked about how the Ravens can more frequently spread out teams with three receivers because McGahee can run out of single-back formations. Billick spoke about how the team can break out the screen and swing passes again because McGahee is so effective in space.

Those are the types of changes to expect as the Ravens go from a bashing-type runner (Jamal Lewis) to a slashing one (McGahee).

The Ravens also are going from a struggling running back to one who describes himself as the best in the NFL.

"That's how I think," said McGahee, defending a statement he first made about himself in 2005. "I'm not going to sit here and say I'm second to last in the NFL. If I think I'm the best - and that's my mentality - that's how I'm going to approach things. That's just my opinion."

McGahee was acquired Thursday by the Ravens, who sent three draft picks (third- and seventh-round picks this year and a third-rounder next year) to the Buffalo Bills. He then signed a seven-year contract, according to ESPN, that could be worth $40.12 million.

In his half-hour introductory news conference, McGahee was welcomed with questions about his criticized work habits, his reconstructed left knee and his underachieving 2006 season.

So, how does the NFL's self-proclaimed best back explain rushing for a career-low 990 yards last season?

"My situation wasn't that great in Buffalo. I thank God for getting the 990 [yards], to tell you the truth," McGahee said with a laugh. "If you look at it, I missed two games and was facing nine guys in the box a lot. If you get to a better team with receivers, a quarterback, a line helping out, it's going to be hard to stop everybody."

Some people wonder about McGahee's prospects for long-term success in the NFL because he suffered a devastating knee injury in college. During the 2003 Fiesta Bowl, Ohio State's Will Allen put his forearm right into McGahee's knee, causing it to bend backward and tearing three ligaments.

After sitting out his rookie season with the Bills to rehabilitate the knee, McGahee has gone on to produce two 1,000-yard seasons but has averaged 4.0 yards a carry only once.

"My knee is better than ever," McGahee said. "I really didn't feel comfortable until last year. When I came back, I still had a little hitch and a little limp. As the years went on, it got better and it got stronger. I don't worry about it at all."

The Ravens' doctors examined McGahee yesterday and expressed no concern about his knee.

"I'm not sure you can fully appreciate how difficult that is in terms of the determination and the drive it takes to come back and rehab that in the way that he did," Billick said. "That speaks to the competitiveness and toughness that Willis has shown over his career, which is obviously very attractive to a coach."

Another point of contention with McGahee has been his training habits.

The Bills were disappointed in McGahee for conducting most of his offseason workouts in his native Miami rather than traveling to the team's Buffalo facility.

McGahee said that won't be a problem with the Ravens.

"I'm going to be up here working out," said McGahee, who was flanked by Billick and general manager Ozzie Newsome. "Coach tells me to come up next week, I'll be here next week."

In addition to staying away from Buffalo in the offseason, McGahee was considered a malcontent in western New York because he recently suggested to Penthouse magazine that the Bills should move to Toronto.

"The Toronto remark was taken out of hand," he said. "They asked me what I thought about the team being moved to Toronto. I said, 'Toronto is a nice place, I wouldn't mind playing there.' It came out in a story a couple months later that 'McGahee wants to leave.'"

The other controversy surrounding McGahee concerns his three paternity suits in two years. According to McGahee's relatives, he plays an active role in the lives of all three children.

"If you look at it, I'm not on any child support," he said. "My kids are taken care of."

The Ravens' focus is on the field, where they are excited about the flexibility that comes with McGahee.

Billick can envision McGahee following the lead block of a fullback one play and then lining up alone in the backfield as the Ravens spread out three receivers. The coaching staff wants to take advantage of McGahee's ability to hit the edges as well as pound the ball inside.

"That multiplicity is something that we can tap into and expand what we've done here in the past," Billick said. "The coaches right now are busily trying to find out ways how we can maximize that."

Note -- The Ravens still have not given Pro Bowl offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden a timetable for determining whether he will return next season or retire. "We'll know when Jonathan calls us," said Newsome, who estimated that he has had three or four conversations with Ogden the past six weeks.


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