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Mike Preston: Ravens working to put some pizazz into passing game, or is it just talk? | COMMENTARY

As Ravens general manager Eric DeCosta and coach John Harbaugh started taking questions Tuesday about free agency, it became clear the answer to the team’s biggest problem won’t be revealed until the opening of training camp and preseason games.

Well, that’s the hope anyway.

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The Ravens want to develop a more intricate passing game that includes quarterback Lamar Jackson showing steady improvement, stronger concepts and route combinations and new coaches such as passing game coordinator Keith Williams and receivers coach Tee Martin possibly having more input.

The Ravens can talk all they want about the overall depth of the NFL draft, the new and improved salary cap, bringing in a veteran No. 1 receiver and possibly signing tight end Mark Andrews and offensive tackle Orlando Brown Jr. to contract extensions.

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That’s all fine and dandy.

But the Ravens have been stuck in a passing quagmire for three years now. In that time, they might be the best rushing team in NFL history, but they can’t go deep into the postseason without being able to throw downfield consistently and accurately.

It’s a foregone conclusion that the Ravens want to sign Jackson to a long-term contract, and if not, he is going to be in Baltimore for at least another two seasons.

So, what are the Ravens going to do? Are they going to find a way to jazz up the passing game a little, or will they be satisfied winning 10-12 games a season and then falling short in the playoffs?

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“The fabric of all the elements are intertwined. They tie together, and you have to put all those things together,” Harbaugh said. “You have to be flexible and patient and see how it plays out, what type of players are going to be available [and] what type of scheme and specific plays and specific rules within the routes actually are successful for us.

“As we start to build the thing in the offseason program, what we’re good at, where guys developed, what routes they run well, how it ties into our run game, where we’re throwing the ball, what route combinations, who goes into what spots when — those are all things that are multi-faceted and multi-layered that go into building an offense at this level. We know that from the standpoint of the passing game, we need to develop it to the same level that we’ve developed our run game.”

Jackson is going to make a fortune, especially after Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott reportedly agreed this week to a four-year, $160 million contact with $126 million guaranteed and a $66 million signing bonus.

Prescott hasn’t played that well or that long to merit that type of deal, and neither has Jackson, but the “next man up” mentality in the NFL for injuries is the same when it comes to getting paid.

It’s Jackson’s turn.

“I think when you look at a contract like Dak’s, and he’s a great player, as an executive, when you’re talking about these kinds of contracts, it’s like if you go to the Bentley dealership or the Range Rover dealership, you know what the cars are going to cost,” DeCosta said. “You’re not going to get much of a discount; they all cost about the same.”

So, the next best step for the Ravens is to improve the situation and surrounding talent around Jackson. His running ability is superb, miraculous at times, but will only take him and the Ravens so far.

That’s proven.

The Ravens could add a star receiver, and that would make Jackson better to some degree, but they have to improve their concepts to take the passing game to a higher level.

The Ravens brought in David Culley — now the coach of the Houston Texans — to serve as their assistant head coach, receivers coach and passing game coordinator in 2019 and 2020, but there wasn’t much difference in the passing offense during those seasons. To call it vanilla would be an understatement.

It’s hard to evaluate the Ravens’ passing game unless you are in the meetings or in the huddle. You wonder if the passing game is so simple because the coaching staff doesn’t think Jackson can handle it, or is it because offensive coordinator Greg Roman’s concepts aren’t sophisticated?

On Tuesday, Harbaugh seemed excited about bringing in new offensive assistants. Martin was a former assistant head coach and receivers coach at the University of Tennessee and served three seasons as Southern California’s offensive coordinator.

Williams has spent 18 seasons on the college level with stops as an assistant at Nebraska, Tulane and Fresno State.

“Tee is in charge of the wide receivers — everything they do. He’s completely responsible for those guys — that it fits into our offense,” Harbaugh said. “Greg [Roman] coordinates the offense, but everybody’s got input in every aspect of it. We try to work cooperatively. Keith is going to be involved with all the route running.

“As I mentioned, those guys meet … I don’t sit in all those meetings, but I organized all the meetings, and I get reports, weekly, on where we’re at and the specifics that we’re doing in the meetings, in terms of making sure that we come to the best possible way to teach every element of the pass game the way we want to teach it — what’s best for our team and for our guys and this offense. Those guys are hashing it out every single day, which I love.”

If the Ravens can add that big receiver on the outside, sign a center and get a lot of repetitions with some new concepts, they might be on to something.

The real question is whether changes will be made or if the Ravens were just providing the same lip service we’ve heard the past two years.

We won’t find out until training camp.

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