Each week, we've brought you a Q&A with a Ravens player to help you learn a little more about the team. Today is a little different. The guest is offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, who has guided the offense to 12th in the NFL in average yards gained. Cameron reflected on life as an offensive coordinator, the process of crafting the weekly game plan, and the impact of other coaches on him.
Question: What's the most difficult part about being the offensive coordinator?
Answer: I never looked at anything being real difficult other than going against great defensive coordinators and veteran defensive players. I would say going against veteran NFL defensive players [is difficult] because they know you, they study you, you very seldom can fool them, there's not many plays that they haven't seen. Linebackers like Ray Lewis, Zach Thomas, those guys, veteran safeties like Rodney Harrison — all of those players are so smart and so good that they make it really hard for you to move the football.
Q: How tough has it been to keep all of the players happy in terms of sharing the football?
A: I don't know that it's ever easy because defenses don't make it easy. I think you see it play out across the league. I'm well aware of all of our guys' individual and team goals, and I try to do everything I can within what we're trying to do as a team. That's hard, but it's doable. I believe in doing everything you can to get everybody involved. I grew up playing with Larry Bird all the way through high school, and the thing that I learned from Larry Bird — and you saw he and Magic Johnson, probably two of the greats of all time, do this — is, getting everybody involved. I've watched that play out, and I think that's my job. It's to win the game, but I think our best chance to win the game is to get everybody involved. I think [quarterback] Joe [Flacco] is on board with that. We have plays in every game plan for every guy. Does it always work? No. Defenses can take a guy away, but we've got enough guys to go to. Over the course of time, we should be able to keep everybody involved, and I try to make sure that every guy is going to get an opportunity in a critical situation to help us win the game. Does it always work? No. But they know it, and if it's in the plan, there's going to be a potential opportunity.
Q: During last week's radio program, coach John Harbaugh said that Joe Flacco has the ability to make adjustments at the line of scrimmage. Is that a recent development or something he's had at his disposal for a while?
A: Actually, we probably did more of that during his rookie year because we were a no-huddle team during his rookie year. But now, people are attacking Joe differently. People didn't disguise defenses for a year-and-a-half against Joe. So it became a little easier. But now, people have gone to a disguise. Without getting too tactical, we have stuff built into everything we're doing. Everybody would be very surprised if they knew all of the options and decisions that Joe is making while he's out there. We're just not going to let everybody know what we're doing.
Q: When you are crafting the game plan for the week, what's the process? Do you run it by John Harbaugh? Ultimately, do you have the final say on what to incorporate and what to leave on the cutting-room floor?
A: It evolves, and it evolves throughout the course of the week. On Monday and Tuesday, we're all kind of looking at things on our own. We have a coordinators' meeting on Tuesday night, and then we kind of collectively come together. I get to hear what [defensive coordinator] Greg [Mattison] is thinking, I get to hear what [assistant head coach and special teams coordinator] Jerry [Rosburg] is thinking, and I kind of give them how I see it. And then we blend it all together. That's the starting point. And then things kind of evolve as the week goes on, and it can evolve all the way up to game time based on who they have active or inactive, a change in weather. It is truly a fluid situation, but there's great communication here. We're all on the same page. John gives us tremendous input of the opposing team's defense because he comes from that defensive perspective, and yet he knows offense, he knows our system, he knows it inside and out. We're all working together. We get a lot of feedback from our defensive coaches every week. Everybody's involved. And then our players, this is the best group of players I've been around for input. We get input from [wide receiver] Derrick [Mason], from Q [wide receiver Anquan Boldin], from [center] Matt [Birk], from [wide receiver] T.J. [Houshmandzadeh], from [running back] Willis [McGahee], from [tight end] Todd [Heap]. Those guys, we ask them for their input, and we get a lot of input during the week from them and even during games. So we've got a great situation here on how we want to approach things.
Q: Who was your major influence as a coach?
A: Primarily my stepfather, Tom Harp [who was the head football coach at Cornell, Duke and Indiana State]. I've told this to people before, but when my mom — I was 13 — married a football coach, it was like she married Santa Claus because of all the sports, I loved football. My high school coach [at South Vigo], Bob Clements, was the guy who let me call plays as a sophomore. Freshmen didn't go to high school back then, so that was my first year in high school and I got to do that. That really inspired me to be a play-caller. All of your coaches impact you in some way, shape or form. Bob Knight and Bo Schembechler, two great men that just know how to develop young men, and I was fortunate to be a young man who played for one and worked for the other.
Q: What was it like to play two seasons of basketball at Indiana University under Bob Knight?
A: Well, I practiced more than I played. I've got to clarify that. I was on good teams. We were ranked No. 1 in the country one year. We won the Big Ten championship my junior year and probably had a chance to win the national championship that year, too, but lost one of our key players, Ted Kitchel. Randy Wittman and I played together, and now he's down here with the Wizards [as an assistant coach]. I basically had to beg my way onto the team. I was a walk-on, and I went to his office and kept begging him for a chance to come out. He said no to me about a half-dozen times, and finally, they had an injury, and he had me come out, and I got a chance to play three years of basketball. Great experience to be a part of a winning program, but the life lessons you learn — I've said this many times, but if any one of my sons wanted to become a college basketball player, I'd want him to play for Bob Knight.
Q: You mentioned seeking Bob Knight out six times and not being content with his answers. Where did that persistence and determination come from?
A: Without overanalyzing it, when my parents divorced when I was real young, you grow up and you become a little more independent pretty quickly. My stepfather came into my life years later, but being raised by my mom had an effect on me. We went through a real tough stretch there. I went through the busing in North Carolina and got bused across town when they finally got rid of segregation. So you have a lot of these life experiences as a young kid, and you just learn to persevere.
Q: Fair or unfair, you only had one season as a head coach. Do you aspire to become a head coach again?
A: Some day, but that some day is not today. I'm not sure which job I enjoy more. I enjoy both differently. I really enjoy being an offensive coordinator. I want to be the best offensive coordinator that I can possibly be. Some coordinator jobs in this league are better than head coaching jobs. There are some head coaching job that are probably better than coordinator jobs, but not every head coaching job in this league is better than an offensive coordinator's job for the Baltimore Ravens. I believe I'm coaching in the finest organization in football, and I mean that sincerely. There are a lot of good ones, but being a coordinator in this program is one of the top jobs in the National Football League. And in no way am I silly enough at this point to think that there's a head coaching job that is necessarily better. I know what we're doing, I know what we're trying to do, and there's no doubt in my mind that we'll get the job done here. And I want to be a part of it.
Q: Who is the toughest defensive coordinator you've faced in the NFL?
A: There have been a lot of great defensive coordinators over the years. Going against New England is tough. Pittsburgh. But if you said I could only pick one, there's five or six that are really close, but I would have to say — I've gone against Buddy Ryan, I've gone against Rex and Rob, but I don't think anybody would fault me with this choice — Jim Johnson [the late Philadelphia Eagles defensive coordinator]. He's one of the great coordinators in the history of this league.
Q: Why Jim Johnson?
A: Some guys can disguise, but they can't attack. Some guys can attack, but they can't disguise. He could disguise and attack, and those are the defenses that give you problems. The teams that can disguise their intentions and attack are the ones that are the most difficult.