All you need to do is watch the Ravens wide receivers in pregame warmups to see the impact of assistant coaches Tee Martin and Keith Williams.
The receivers line up in a single file and each run the same route the same way, getting their hips down before going into a break and exploding out of it. There are no wasted motions: just plant and go.
Of all the Ravens’ offseason additions, including offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva, guard Kevin Zeitler and receiver Sammy Watkins, Martin and Williams have been the best. In six games, the Ravens have gone from the worst passing offense in the NFL last season to No. 11, averaging 266.5 yards per game.
Quarterback Lamar Jackson gets a lot of credit for the newfound success, but Williams and Martin need to get a big thank you for adding some much-needed concepts and wrinkles while establishing a connection with this young group of receivers.
The Ravens’ passing game is no longer stuck in the mud with Martin as the receivers coach and Williams as the pass game specialist.
“It’s been good,” second-year receiver Devin Duvernay said of working with the tandem. “They’ve definitely brought a ton of new stuff to our lives that we’ve never seen, never heard of, and it’s definitely helped translate our game to the field. And like I said, we’re young. We’re just continuing to grow each and every practice, and we can’t do anything but thank them.”
Jackson has completed 67.5% of his passes for 1,686 yards, nine touchdowns and five interceptions this season, and is averaging a career-high 8.7 yards per attempt. He looks so much more comfortable in the pocket compared with previous years, when he would take off running instead of being patient.
Back then, the Ravens would only attack one quarter or half of the field. They were content playing it safe and being conservative. But that’s not true anymore with Williams and Martin on staff. Jackson has been throwing consistently outside the numbers, from short hitches to long fly routes on the far side of the field.
Receivers are working combination and crossing routes, finding creases and holes in zone defenses. Martin and Williams didn’t just bring concepts to the Ravens, but a connection the receivers didn’t have with former assistant David Culley, who became the head coach of the Houston Texans in January. Culley, 66, is one of the most well-respected assistants in the NFL, but Martin, 43, and Williams, 40, are younger.
They just didn’t install plays, but broke them down. They explained the logic behind the routes and why they would succeed, especially Williams. Martin, a former quarterback who played professionally in Pittsburgh, Philadelphia and Oakland, served as an assistant at Tennessee, Southern California and Kentucky before joining the Ravens.
Williams is also a long-time college assistant, but for the past 15 years has been working privately with some of the NFL’s top receivers, such as Kansas City’s Tyreek Hill and Green Bay’s Davante Adams. He is extremely animated in practices and takes his explanations to another level, like pointing out how certain muscle groups help receivers move in and out of cuts.
They have a good rapport. After Marquise Brown dropped at least two touchdown passes earlier this season in a win over the Detroit Lions, he rebounded because of the firm support system in place. Except for the veteran Watkins, the Ravens have a relatively young receiving group in rookie Rashod Bateman, second-year players James Proche II and Duvernay and third-year player Brown.
Tight end Mark Andrews appears to be an old man in his fourth season.
“In today’s world, being focused on the right thing all the time is something that may seem a little bit difficult to achieve to some people, you know what I’m saying? Being on point all the time is something that a lot of people think is difficult to do,” Keyan Williams, a receivers coach at Missouri Southern, said of his father this summer. “When in retrospect, you come to college or you go to the NFL, you have a job to do. So, you would want to be on point all the time, which to the rest of society may be a little weird. But all the guys that he’s [worked with] that are really good, they’re on point all the time. And that’s why he classifies them as a little weird. But he’s also a little weird.”
He added: “I’ve never seen my dad pick up a book, all right, but one thing my dad does is, he goes home and gets on the iPad, and if he has an idea — just for example ... he’ll read a tiger has a hundred teeth. He will then spend the next three hours learning about tigers, and somehow he’s going to relate that to wideout play. And I have no idea how he does it. I have no idea why he does it. But he’s an avid reader, but maybe not necessarily books.”
Williams and Martin have the receivers’ attention. More importantly, they have their respect, as well as the respect of the other assistants. It’s a gamble sometimes mixing college and pro coaches. Some of the concepts are different, and so are the attitudes of the players. Pro players want to be treated like men, while college players try to earn that right.
The Ravens seem to have found the right chemistry. But make no mistake, this is still coordinator Greg Roman’s offense. According to coach John Harbaugh, Roman does the game planning. Of course, Harbaugh has to check the drawings, listen to the installs and ask questions.
He also didn’t let his ego get in the way of hiring two new coaches. Harbaugh is from the old school of coaching, but smart enough to embrace new ideas when necessary.
“Yes, it was something to think about, for sure,” Harbaugh said of mixing college coaches and schemes with NFL concepts. “I don’t think there was any doubt about it that it was a thought, but once I met the guys and kind of figured out what their roles were going to be in terms of who they were [it made sense].
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“I feel like who they were and what their strengths were kind of set the job descriptions more than anything. Tee has been in the NFL, has a lot of ties to the NFL. So, I felt like he had a really good feel for that already. Keith has worked with NFL players, so he had that part of it. He’s more working with the guys. Tee had a good feel for the scheme stuff, and he’s been an offensive coordinator before. It’s a process and Greg still runs the show. It’s worked out great.”