Trap scheme

The Baltimore Sun

How much of a factor that was in Bisciotti's dismissal of Billick is a mystery, because the owner declined to discuss the specifics of his decision-making. But considering that a month or so ago Bisciotti gave "indications" to Billick that he would be back, you have to figure that the players' feedback carried some weight, because that's one of the most recent developments.

I'm going to venture a guess that whether the players -- especially the ones on the defense -- expressed it or not, there was the hope that if Billick were fired, defensive coordinator Rex Ryan would be elevated to coach. That's reasonable. Ryan kept the Ravens atop the NFL defensive rankings, he's creative and the players respond well to him. He deserves to be a head coach, here or elsewhere.

But that didn't happen immediately. Technically, Ryan, along with Billick and the other Ravens assistant coaches, were fired -- I think that's what being free to pursue other jobs means.

Now, general manager Ozzie Newsome said Ryan would be a top candidate. That's not surprising, given that Ryan was a finalist for the head coaching job in San Diego after last season. But you also get the feeling that this is a wide-open search, so handicap Ryan's chances any way you want.

All of which brings us back to the Ravens' locker room. If Ryan becomes the coach -- presumably retaining some of the current staff -- there still would be tinkering with the roster.

Quarterback is the biggest question mark, but the Ravens obviously need to reload at cornerback (especially in terms of depth), and offensive left tackle will be a concern if Jonathan Ogden retires. Center will be re-evaluated, and on and on. But the team wouldn't be gutted, because the defensive players in the locker room are Ryan's guys. He knows and trusts them, and they work in his system.

However, if there is a new coach with a new staff of assistants, the approach probably would be much more long-term. A new guy might not want to go with this roster hoping to squeak into the playoffs in 2008 and maybe 2009. So, while the Ravens have 21 of 22 starters under contract (and Terrell Suggs is expected to be re-signed), that new coach might look at the projected starting 11 on defense and notice that the average age will be nearly 29 by early next season. One more important thing: If Billick couldn't count on his players to have his back -- after running the team, by all observations, with a loose rein -- how's the new guy to feel about the loyalty he can expect should things go sour?

At the end of the day, a new guy probably will blow up this roster, because of age, because of players not fitting into new schemes or because they can't be trusted.

Here's the bottom line:

If Ryan gets the job, some players who discussed Billick's shortcomings, understanding the possible consequences, might have played a successful gambit. However, if it works out that a new guy with a new agenda -- one that looks beyond 2008 -- is hired, some of those same players might find themselves following their former coach out the door.

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