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Point man is Cameron

Cam Cameron, the latest offensive mind attempting to turn around the Ravens' attack, can envision all the pieces coming together.

There is Willis McGahee breaking a long run, Todd Heap catching a touchdown pass and the offensive line becoming a cohesive unit.

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The problem is Cameron wasn't able to see the Ravens' offense come together in the preseason.

Injuries have taken out four starters on offense for most of the preseason in addition to the top two quarterbacks competing for the starting job.

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That's why the offensive renaissance under Cameron is more theory than reality.

"Ultimately, great offenses become great because of continuity," said Cameron, the Ravens' fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons. "Is it an ideal scenario we've had so far? No.

"Pretty much anyone can coach and play in an ideal scenario. The players and the coaches that can separate themselves from the rest are the ones that can take the most difficult circumstances and find a way to get the job done. That's what we're about here."

Traditionally, it has never been an ideal situation when looking at the Ravens' offense.

In nine seasons under Brian Billick, the Ravens finished in the top half of the NFL in offense only once. They never ranked higher than 14th in total offense during that time.

Cameron is trying to change not only the playbook, but the culture as well.

"We want to create that identity where every opponent says: 'Oh, my gosh, not only do we have to go against the Ravens' defense, but we have to go against the Ravens' offense. We're going to have to go to work this week if we want to win,' " center Jason Brown said. "Most teams are always lacking in some area. The past couple of years, we've been lacking on the offensive side of the ball. In order for us to accomplish all of our goals, we've got to improve."

It's difficult to take a step forward when so many starters are limping.

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McGahee, who had arthroscopic knee surgery, didn't carry the ball this preseason. Heap, who is dealing with a calf injury, didn't catch a pass. The Ravens' starting offensive tackles - Jared Gaither and Adam Terry - have only recently returned to practice after missing most of training camp with ankle injuries.

And the team's quarterback situation - Troy Smith is battling an illness and Kyle Boller was put on injured reserve Wednesday because of a serious shoulder injury, ending his season - has only made matters worse, leaving rookie Joe Flacco to start the opener.

"It's our job to find a way with whatever we have to get the job done, plain and simple," Cameron said. "[The media doesn't] want to hear what we don't have, and the fans don't want to hear what we don't have. We get paid to get the job done. Our approach in that perspective will never change."

Without these key players, the Ravens struggled mightily this preseason. They ranked last in the NFL in total offense (averaging 224.2 yards a game) and scored three offensive touchdowns (tied with the Oakland Raiders for fewest in the league).

The Ravens say they expect all their starters to return for the regular-season opener along with the belief that this offense can succeed.

"It's hard to know until you get everyone out on the field," Heap said. "At the same time, we got confidence because we put a lot of time in [this offseason]. We've seen what everybody can do. That has to translate to the real games. We still have a lot to find out, but we got to do it quick."

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When asked to describe the direction of Cameron's offense, wide receiver Derrick Mason succinctly said, "attack, attack and attack."

This doesn't mean the Ravens are going to be throwing deep every series, but the goal is to figure out when the defense is prone to giving up a big play.

Cameron built a reputation for regularly dissecting defenses. In his last three seasons as the Chargers' offensive coordinator (2004-2006), San Diego finished in the NFL's top five in scoring, averaging 28.3 points a game.

"Cam is a bright coordinator," Mason said. "We're going to find that weakness and exploit it quickly."

Mason said the other wrinkle is more motion than previous seasons.

Before the snap, the Ravens' wide receivers, tight ends and running backs are all bouncing from side to side.

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"Defenses play great when they don't have to think," Mason said. "If you just line up in a base offense, they're going to pin their ears back and come at you. If you start motioning, now they got to think, and that slows them a tad bit."

Before the Ravens can slow down defenses, their progress must speed up.

But their ragged history could help the team enter a brighter future.

"We got the talent, and we're under the radar," Heap said. "Those two things are playing into our favor. I think we'll surprise a lot of people."

NEXT MAN UP

Cam Cameron is the Ravens' fifth offensive coordinator in five seasons.

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Year Coordinator NFL rank

2004 Matt Cavanaugh 31st

2005 Jim Fassel 24th

2006 Jim Fassel/Brian Billick 17th

2007 Rick Neuheisel 22nd


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