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Plenty of time for Ravens' Harbaugh to plan for 2011 season

It's a question Ravens coach John Harbaugh gets asked a lot these days: with the NFL lockout nearly three months old, how are the Ravens preparing for the 2011 season?

Harbaugh admits his staff has been doing a lot of sitting around, simply because there haven't been any minicamps this offseason. But they've studied a lot of film.

And they've studied some more. And more. And more …

So much, in fact, that Harbaugh has tweaked a few of his assistants' nerves. The Ravens have even studied film of themselves studying film.

"We have maxed out everything we can do to make ourselves better coaches," Harbaugh said. "As coaches, we have to be the best teachers we can be. What does that mean? A great teacher has a great lesson plan. The better the material, the better you can teach.

"What we've done is re-engineered all three phases, especially on the offensive side, in a way that really teaches well, that is player friendly. You probably have to do it every year, the way the game changes, but don't have the time to do it because of the draft and on-the-field stuff. This year, we had the time."

Harbaugh said the Ravens have made multiple contingency plans for training camp, starting from seven weeks out until the first game on Sept. 11 against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

"If the lockout goes past 9/11, then we have to re-figure because we don't have anything planned after that date," Harbaugh said.

The most offseason progress, though, seems to have been made in the offense. The Ravens were ranked No. 22 overall in the NFL in total offense a year ago, averaging 322.9 yards and 22.3 points. But there were numerous breakdowns in teaching and communication.

The Ravens put together a good staff with some strong minds, including offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn and consultant Al Saunders, but everybody had their own way of doing things.

They did try to appease each other, but there wasn't always trust. The confusion sometimes showed up in the face of third-year quarterback Joe Flacco.

"The first phase was to install the offense for me," said Harbaugh, who is set to enter his fourth season as the Ravens' coach. "I took notes and then in the next two to three weeks, we had conversation among the coaches. Then we went back through it again, we went through cutups of everything we've done through the last two and sometimes three years.

"We were able to ask questions, make suggestions and get everybody talking. Everybody got involved, and it wasn't just the offensive line coach talking about pass protection and the receivers' coach talking about routes. We got into everything, and Cam was the driving force."

One of the major criticisms of Cameron last season was that he didn't allow his offensive assistants to have input. Apparently, that has changed.

"All coaches on offense are aligned and there is no need for any of them to stay in their little rooms game planning," Harbaugh said. "We have to be that way through the entire season, where every coach is on the same page, that we understand what every rule and what every word means. That way during the regular season, we can hold each other accountable."

Usually when the season ends teams do self-scouting, but the Ravens took it a step further doing the lockout. The Ravens had their defensive personnel evaluate the Ravens' offense and vice-versa, and then had their defensive staff break down other teams' defenses. Their offensive staff did the same to opponents.

As expected, the Pittsburgh Steelers got the most scrutiny. The Ravens also brought in outside coaches to study other things, like the West Coast offense and how the running game works in that offense, or what makes Mike Martz's offenses so special.

"We cross-checked each other," Harbaugh said. "Our offense did a comprehensive study of our defense and our defense did a comprehensive study of offense. Are you going to learn anything new? It turned out we did. We learned some things we didn't know about ourselves on our own sides of the ball.

"I think we have a better understanding of our opponents now, and to tell you the truth, I'm excited to get out there and apply what we learned. It will be interesting."

This will be Harbaugh's first year with major input into the offense. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has termed it the "evolution of a head coach."

In Harbaugh's first season, he basically reshaped the special teams units because of his background as the special teams coordinator in Philadelphia for nine years.

Last season, Harbaugh became more involved in the defense. He made several changes after Game 5, a 31-17 win against Denver. According to some in the organization, Harbaugh also ordered defensive coordinator Greg Mattison to make 50 percent of his calls blitzes after the Ravens barely held on to beat Houston, 34-28, in overtime on Dec. 23.

Now Newsome and owner Steve Bisciotti want him more in control of an offense that disappointed last season despite the addition of several major weapons.

"That's the type of head coach I am," Harbaugh said. "I don't want to be the type that can only coach one phase and not the other two. I've got a pretty good broad knowledge of all three, and that's my strength. I was on the offensive side for ten years.

"I'm not going to come in here and say this is the defense that is going to stay. I don't have that. I wasn't a defensive coordinator. Special teams were different. But over the last two years, I got us doing things more the way I want us to play. Now, it's just time to move over to offense."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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