From owner Steve Bisciotti to coach John Harbaugh, team officials have maintained in recent weeks that fixing the Ravens' much-maligned running game is a big offseason priority. Harbaugh made a move with that in mind Thursday, hiring former Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers offensive coordinator Greg Roman as part of a modest staff shakeup.
Roman, 44, was hired as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach. Richard Angulo, who coached the Ravens' tight ends this past season, will become the assistant offensive line coach. Juan Castillo, the Ravens run game coordinator in 2013 and the offensive line coach the past three seasons, won't return and he could land on Sean McDermott's new Buffalo Bills coaching staff, according to industry sources.
Secondary coach Leslie Frazier, who was instrumental in the improvement of the team's defensive backfield in 2016, will also depart and become McDermott's defensive coordinator in Buffalo. In his one season with the Ravens, Frazier's impact was felt as the team tied for the league lead with 18 interceptions, more than they had the previous two years combined, and finished with the NFL's ninth-ranked pass defense. ESPN first reported Frazier's departure.
The Ravens still have an opening at quarterbacks coach, and now they are looking for a replacement for Castillo as offensive line coach and Frazier as secondary coach. However, team officials considered it a coup that they were able to land Roman, whose offenses have a history of running the ball often and well.
"Greg had other opportunities over the last few days, and we're pleased that he has decided to join the Ravens," Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. "I've known Greg for a long time, and he's a hard worker and very creative. Our football team just got better."
Roman returns to the organization for which he was an assistant offensive line coach under former head coach Brian Billick in 2006 and 2007. He also has a relationship with Harbaugh, having worked for his brother, Jim, both with the 49ers and at Stanford.
"I am very excited to join the Ravens' staff and help coach Harbaugh and [offensive coordinator] Marty Mornhinweg in any way I can," Roman said. "The building blocks are there for this team, and we're all looking forward to being better. I've been with the Ravens before and know firsthand what a great organization they have. My family and I are happy to be back."
The depth of Roman's responsibilities and whether his hiring was the primary reason behind Castillo's departure aren't immediately clear. Roman, though, is expected to play a significant role in the design and execution of the team's running schemes. Castillo, a close friend of Harbaugh's from their days working together on the Philadelphia Eagles' staff, was involved in that as well over the past four seasons.
Harbaugh has spoken in recent weeks about his desire to bring in somebody to add much-needed creativity to the Ravens' approach in the run game. Bisciotti also said at Tuesday's "State of the Ravens" address that he wants to see the team show a greater commitment to the run.
"I think that we are all in agreement that you need a more balanced offense," Bisciotti said. "I think that our success still goes back to good defense and balance, and that means a strong running game. Yes, I was really disappointed in the lack of a running game, the lack of a commitment to the running game.
"I think that the end result and the disparity — it speaks for itself," Bisciotti added. "I do not think that we are going to be successful putting the ball in the air 600-and-some times. It is just not our identity, and I do not know how we got that far away from it."
The Ravens finished the 2016 season ranked 28th in the NFL with an average of 91.4 rushing yards per game and 21st with an average of 4.0 yards per carry. They also ran the ball a franchise-record low 367 times. In 2015, the Ravens ranked 26th in rushing yards per game (92.4) and 24th in yards per attempt (3.9).
Roman's offenses have had significant success in running the ball. During his four years as the 49ers offensive coordinator from 2011 to 2014, San Francisco ranked second in total rushing yards (8,912) and rushing yards per game (139.3), third in rushing attempts (1,965) and rushes of 10 yards or more (267), and sixth in yards per carry (4.54). San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis (Maryland) also flourished under Roman, catching 26 touchdowns over four seasons.
Roman was the Bills' offensive coordinator under head coach Rex Ryan in 2015, when Buffalo led the league in rushing yards per game (152.0) and yards per carry (4.8), and tied for the lead league in rushing touchdowns (19). They also ran the ball 509 times, the second most in the NFL behind the Carolina Panthers.
Roman was fired by Ryan in September after the Bills got off to a 0-2 start, which included a 13-7 season-opening loss to the Ravens. Ryan was let go by the Bills in late December.
Harbaugh had plenty of praise for Roman both before and after the Ravens' matchup with the Bills. He gave Roman credit for the Bills' power-running schemes and their ability to run out of multiple formations. It's an element Harbaugh clearly wants for the Ravens, whose offense used to be defined by a power-running approach.
"Marty believes in running the football, and I believe in running the football," Harbaugh said at his season-ending news conference last week. "We have not run the football well enough or enough, really, for the last two years. That has to change."
Before choosing the Ravens, Roman, a New Jersey native, was considered a potential candidate for several of the open offensive coordinator jobs. The Cleveland Browns were reportedly interested in adding Roman after head coach Hue Jackson's top offensive assistant, Pep Hamilton, left to work under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan.
"Getting a veteran coach like Greg Roman to join our staff is a coup for the Ravens," Mornhinweg said. "He is a very sound coach and a good team player who will help us build our offense."