Ravens offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg has some new toys, and it’s just a matter of finding out when he can use them.
The Ravens finished their third day of training camp Sunday, and there have only been subtle signs about any new wrinkles in the playbook.
Mornhinweg plans to keep it that way until about ten days before the Sept. 9 season opener, when the Ravens bar the media from watching practice.
And then a lot of the fun will begin.
“We’ll see. We’re at the start of training camp,” Mornhinweg said. “We’re going to see what everybody’s strengths are and we certainly will try to use all of our players that are eligible. We’ll try to use the whole field. We’ll get it to our best players more.”
Mornhinweg hasn’t had this type of versatility in three years as the coordinator. He has often been criticized for his conservative play calling, but, in his defense, the Ravens might have had the worst receiving corps in the NFL last season.
They were fortunate to get more than 1,200 all-purpose yards out of running back Alex Collins, who was cut by the Seattle Seahawks early in that season, and quarterback Joe Flacco played hurt through most of the first half of last season with a back injury.
These were valid reasons for an offense that averaged only 189.4 passing yards (No. 29 in the NFL) and 305. 4 total yards (No. 27). But in 2018, there can be no more excuses.
If the Ravens don’t reach the postseason, there is a good chance that both coach John Harbaugh and Mornhinweg won’t be retained for another year. But at least Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome has given Mornhinweg some tools for success this season.
“It looks like we’re quite a little bit deeper at several positions than we were last year,” Mornhinweg said. “That’s a really good thing, and we certainly have skill and ability there as well.”
Flacco has performed well so far this offseason. His passes have velocity and he is moving well in the pocket. He is even stepping up in the pocket, which he seldom has done throughout his career, and running plays with a run-pass option.
That’s a big deal.
The Ravens had those plays in the offense last year, but not as many as they appear to have now.
“I think that is honestly all good stuff,” Flacco said. “It puts stress on the defense. I think it opens up lanes for the running backs, so I think those are definitely good things when you pick to do them in the right spots.”
Those types of plays would be better suited for rookie quarterback Lamar Jackson, the first-round pick out of Louisville. The former Heisman Trophy winner excelled at making plays out of the pocket, and has shown strong accuracy throwing on the run in camp.
Because of his athleticism, the Ravens might use Jackson as an option on end-around runs or double hitch passes. They could just throw him a quick screen to the outside. A reporter asked Mornhinweg if Flacco was more supportive of those “high school” plays now than he was years ago.
“When used properly, it’s very productive,” Mornhinweg said. “There is nothing wrong with a high school play; we have a lot of them. If they’re done properly, they’re very effective.”
When asked if the Ravens were going to use more of those plays this year, Mornhinweg replied: “We’ll see about that. I don’t want to get into too many details on all of that.”
It’s all about options. Mornhinweg is talking a lot but saying absolutely nothing.
It will be just as interesting to see how Mornhinweg uses his new crop of receivers. Veteran Michael Crabtree is the most polished and has the best hands of the group. Flacco already seems to have some chemistry with Willie Snead IV, who will probably play in the slot.
On the other side, the Ravens have a speedster in John Brown even though there are questions about him holding onto the ball. The big question, though, is how will the Ravens use their four tight ends, especially rookies Hayden Hurst and Mark Andrews?
Nick Boyle is the best blocker of the tight end group and Maxx Williams bulked up during the offseason. The Ravens should be able to muscle up on short-yardage situations and create some mismatches on passing downs.
We’re all waiting to see the 2018 version of Marty Ball.
The final piece, at least from the skilled players, is making Collins more of a weapon out of the backfield. The Ravens don’t want to become too predictable using Collins only to run the ball.
“That’s something I wanted to work on in the offseason, so they know that they have sure hands,” Collins said.
But it isn’t just about catching the ball. He has to learn to block.
“If he can do that, that will really help our offense,” Mornhinweg said.
A lot has to come together. The Ravens also have to develop chemistry with the offensive line, but this group performed reasonably well last season. They should be sound again in 2018.
“It’s good to have a lot of good players,” Harbaugh said of the receivers.
Now, it’s all about Mornhinweg finding the right mix and balance.