Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman talks about starting the new offense from scratch and using new terminology and new schemes. (Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun video)
Greg Roman talked a lot about food Tuesday. The Ravens offensive coordinator said he doesn’t like to “leave popcorn on the ground” as a play-caller. Asked whether he’d like a dual-threat backup quarterback, he said he would “prefer to eat the whole cake,” meaning he’d like quality play, too. The offense’s offseason overhaul? It’ll be total, “from soup to nuts,” he explained.
“From the ground up,” Roman said at his first news conference since being promoted last month, replacing Marty Mornhinweg. “We’re really kneading dough, pouring flour on it, trying to hit the sweet spot with how we put this offense together. We’re all excited about that and we’ve been working pretty hard at it.”
OK, so not all of the extended metaphors were perfect. But the morsels were food for thought. This is Roman’s first offseason in charge of the Ravens offense, after two seasons as an assistant coach hailed for his influence on the team’s running game. This is Lamar Jackson’s first full offseason as an NFL quarterback. The offense is theirs to run. They just have to figure out what’s on the menu.
There were clues Tuesday about what will remain from last year’s overhauled attack, which produced the NFL’s best running game and concerns about Jackson’s long-term health and viability as a passer. But there was also much left unsaid. The coaching staff, Roman said, is in “the throes right now offensively of pretty much reimagining our offense.” And there’s no way of knowing what will stick and what will work.
“I think we have run an offense here that has been kind of morphed over the years, and we really want to start fresh, start new, and from everything — from our language, our formations, how we do everything — [we want to] rebuild the thing from the ground up,” he said. “That’s one angle. The other angle is, really, how do we want to move forward with Lamar Jackson? He’s a unique player with a unique skill set, so let’s build an offense that really accommodates that, as opposed to try to fit him into something that other people had once done.”
No one had attempted what the Ravens did after Joe Flacco suffered a hip injury in Week 9. Jackson set the single-season record for rushing attempts by a quarterback despite making just seven starts. In the regular season, they passed less than 38 percent of the time (excluding kneel-downs) in a league where only one other team went under 50 percent. And they won all but one game until their season-ending loss to the Los Angeles Chargers.
Coach John Harbaugh said last month that the Ravens, with Jackson at quarterback and Eric DeCosta as general manager, have entered “a new era of football.” Roman, even with his promotion and Jackson returning, called this a “completely new beginning” for the offense. He likened the process of reinvention to the assembly of a piece of IKEA furniture.
“If you make one wrong move, you've got to take the whole thing apart and start over again,” he said. “So it's a time-intensive thing where you start off — what are we calling these routes? If you call the route this, when we put it into this concept … you know, it's got to all fit together. It's a real grind and a lot of thought, and we're working our way through it right now.”
It will start with Jackson. Roman, who worked with Steve McNair during his final two NFL seasons in Baltimore, compared Jackson’s vision to that of the former NFL Most Valuable Player: “He’s got all the ability in the world.” But Roman acknowledged that Jackson’s fundamentals remain a work in progress. Too often his footwork was unrefined or his delivery imprecise.
Jackson’s worst performance of his rookie season was his last, but Roman rejected the notion that the Chargers were wiser to the team’s tendencies in their second meeting in three weeks. He mentioned how, in baseball, hitters adjust to pitchers with each passing at-bat. But “I feel like that had nothing to do with the game,” Roman said.
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The Ravens’ greater concern appears to be the team around Jackson, not the scheme in which he’s deployed. DeCosta said last month that the Ravens “want big, physical, tough, aggressive, nasty, mean offensive linemen.” That was the first position Roman mentioned in his outline of a successful offense.
“That’s where it all starts, domination up front and control up front,” he said. “Unless you want to be throwing one-step screen passes the whole game, you better be able to block people. I don’t care what [running] back you get, if there’s no space to run, he’s going to be fighting an uphill battle. It all starts up front. We’ve got a lot of really good pieces in place here right now for sure, and we’re always looking to get better.”
The Ravens have to find a big-play receiver, an all-purpose running back and one or two interior offensive linemen. But, more importantly, they have to develop an offense that fits the skill set of quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The rest of his wish list was not surprising. Roman said the Ravens need running backs who, first and foremost, can run the ball, as Gus Edwards and Kenneth Dixon did to great effect last season. A pass-catching running back — like, say, Le’Veon Bell — “I wouldn't put it for us at the top of the list,” Roman said. At wide receiver, they need players who can get open and block in space.
Other changes won’t be evident until training camp. No-huddle and hurry-up tempos are "definitely going to be a part of what we do," Roman said. There could be a fullback deployed more regularly. College schemes could continue to influence the Ravens’ playbook.
Other than that, there wasn’t much spilling of beans. There’s still a lot on Roman’s plate.
“My philosophy is, winning comes first,” he said. “I’m not chasing stats, job justification stats, water-cooler talk. I’m not really into it. I’m into whatever helps the team to win. … I want to put our players in positions where the defense can’t call out our plays before the play. If they can and we’re still doing good, we’re pretty good. But in this league, everything is so competitive that we want to grab every edge that we can.”