The Ravens' expected hire of former Houston Texans coach Gary Kubiak as their new offensive coordinator triggered heavy praise from one of his former players.
Former Texans offensive tackle Eric Winston played for Kubiak for six seasons and characterized the hire as an "absolute home run" that will provide a boost for the NFL's 29th-ranked offense from last season.
"I think Gary can get them back to where they were when they were rolling with Ray Rice and Joe Flacco and an offensive line with Marshal Yanda and Eugene Monroe," Winston said in a telephone interview. "Those guys would work well with what Kubiak likes to do. He could get them back to more of a hard-nosed, grinding style. They could run the ball well and throw a lot of play-action passes.
"He's good at getting guys to be successful. He not only knows the Xs and Os, but he knows how to get the most out of a player like Wade Smith. He was the classic journeyman lineman and the Texans brought the most out of him and made him successful. Personally, I'm a fan of Gary Kubiak. He's a big reason why I've been successful."
Now with the Arizona Cardinals, Winston praised Kubiak for being a low-ego, team-oriented leader.
"Gary's almost a shy guy, in a way," Winston said. "He doesn't want the credit. He doesn't want the talk. He wants to do his job and help guys be the best players that they can be. He took all the criticism down in Houston. He never says, 'I called the perfect play and they didn't execute.' Guys always respected that about him. If you know him, you know he isn't in it for the ego and press clippings.
"He holds players accountable. He played in the league and he knows when it takes. He knows when to put the foot down on the accelerator. He can tailor his schemes to what the Ravens have. It's not just one-size-fits-all with him. There's a lot of intricacies and choices."
Kubiak is a major proponent of zone-blocking schemes, especially the zone-stretch run play run adeptly by Texans running back Arian Foster. While he was with the Denver Broncos, Kubiak learned a lot of these techniques from Alex Gibbs, the architect of the zone blocking
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"Yanda is a really good player and Monroe and Michael Oher are very athletic," Winston said. "They're really perfect fits for Gary's offense. They'll love playing in it. You get a chance to be aggressive and go out and block the hell out of people. You get a lot of choices how to block guys.
"There's a lot of deception with the offense. I loved that. There's bootlegs, shorter waggle plays, so many different ways of doing the same thing so the defense can't get a bead on it. There's screens off of every run. There are so many choices. It's a system where you can be successful."
Winston predicted that Ravens tight end Dennis Pitta could have a big season playing for Kubiak, who regularly got the football in the hands of tight end Owen Daniels in Houston. Pitta is a pending unrestricted free agent.
"One thing I thought we really did well is use the tight end personnel group," Winston said. "I would think that would be a really good thing for Pitta if he comes back. He could have a huge year. Gary will want to get the best guys out on the field and get the football in their hands out in space. He knows how to use tight ends. If you don't have tight ends like Pitta, he'll use three wide receiver groupings."
With Kubiak's arrival, the Ravens could also add former Texans offensive coordinator Rick Dennison to the offensive staff. Former Redskins and Texans offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, who was a finalist for the Ravens' offensive coordinator position, is a possibility for quarterbacks coach.
"If the Ravens can get all three of them, if Kubiak jumps ship and gets a head coaching job next year, you can move up Kyle as offensive coordinator or Dennison if he doesn't go there," Winston said. "Kyle is such a smart guy with a very big future ahead of him. Dennison is a very smart guy. He can coach running backs. He can coach the line. He can coach tight ends. He can help build the game plan. He's very valuable as a versatile coach."