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)
In 2007, after more than a decade on NFL staffs, Greg Roman started over at his alma mater, overseeing a New Jersey high school team’s offense. For the next two years, he served on Jim Harbaugh’s coaching staff at Stanford. By 2011, he was back in the pros, this time as the San Francisco 49ers’ offensive coordinator.
Roman’s career path has been nothing if not unpredictable. Even his three offensive coordinator posts have shared an enduring quirk. In San Francisco with Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick, in Buffalo with Tyrod Taylor, and now in Baltimore with Lamar Jackson, Roman has handed the reins not to classic drop-back passers but to dual-threat quarterbacks.
“I’ve worked for quite a while with very athletic quarterbacks that could impact games with their legs,” Roman said Tuesday, his first news conference since he was promoted last month to offensive coordinator.
Which means he’s more qualified than most to answer the question haunting Ravens fans’ nightmares: Doesn’t Jackson’s historically abnormal involvement in the team’s running game leave him more vulnerable to injury? After all, it was a hit on Joe Flacco that opened the door for Jackson in the first place.
“I think it’s a little overrated, the whole danger thing,” Roman said. “Why? Because, and this is empirical data here, over the years, you kind of realize that when a quarterback decides to run, he’s in control. So now [if] he wants to slide, he can slide. If he wants to dive, he can dive, get out of bounds, all of those different things. He can get down, declare himself down.
“A lot of the time, the situations that [have] more danger are when he doesn’t see what’s coming — my eyes are downfield, I’m standing stationary from the pocket, somebody is hitting me from the blind side. My experience, and I kind of learned this, is that when the quarterback takes the ball and starts to run, there’s not a lot of danger involved in that relative to other situations.”
Not that his quarterbacks have been impervious to danger outside the pocket. In 2012, the 49ers’ Alex Smith suffered a concussion when he was hit in the helmet as he turned away from a tackle on a scramble toward the sideline. Smith eventually recovered, but not before Colin Kaepernick had seized the starting job.
Three years later, in Buffalo, Taylor missed two games with a sprained MCL after a defender dragged him down from behind on a long scramble with a horse-collar tackle.
Neither injury was catastrophic, though. Over the past two seasons, according to a review of nine high-profile, longer-term injuries, only one quarterback, the San Francisco 49ers’ Jimmy Garoppolo, suffered a serious injury during the kind of open-field run that Jackson delighted in attempting last season.
» The Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone in Week 6 in 2017 when Minnesota Vikings linebacker Anthony Barr drove him into the ground after Rodgers had rolled out to his right and thrown a pass.
» The Arizona Cardinals’ Carson Palmer broke his arm in Week 7 in 2017 when he took a hard hit from Los Angeles Rams linebacker Alec Ogletree as he stepped into a throw inside the pocket.
» The Philadelphia Eagles’ Carson Wentz tore his ACL and LCL in Week 14 in 2017 when he dove for the end zone on a short scramble and was sandwiched by a pair of Rams defenders.
» The New York Jets’ Josh McCown broke his hand in Week 14 in 2017 when Denver Broncos linebacker Shane Ray hit him as he dropped back to pass.
» The Broncos’ Trevor Siemian suffered a partial dislocation of his left shoulder in Week 15 in 2017 when Indianapolis Colts linebacker Barkevious Mingo sacked Siemian from behind as he looked for a receiver outside the pocket.
» Garoppolo tore his ACL in Week 3 last season when he planted his left leg near the sideline and tried to cut inside on a scramble against the Kansas City Chiefs.
» The Washington Redskins’ Alex Smith broke his tibia and fibia in Week 11 last season when Houston Texans safety Kareem Jackson and defensive end J.J. Watt drove him to the ground on a sack. Smith’s ankle bent gruesomely as he was thrown back.
» The Cincinnati Bengals’ Andy Dalton tore ligaments in his right thumb (his passing hand) in Week 12 last season when he reached for a fumbled ball and had his hand stepped on by Cleveland Browns defenders.
» The Redskins’ Colt McCoy fractured the lower part of his tibia in Week 13 last season when, as he scrambled outside the pocket, his right leg slammed into the knee of Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins.
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.
In the thick of the Ravens’ playoff push last season, Jackson said he was not worried about the possibility of running into trouble. He missed only about a quarter of action as a starter in 2018, and that was spent in concussion protocol after taking an errant cleat to the helmet from left tackle Ronnie Stanley at the end of a quarterback draw.
“I’m trying to win,” Jackson said in December. “I don’t really care about that. [If] we’re winning, it’s going to happen. Players [are] getting nicked up in every game, believe me.
“They always tell me to protect myself. But you know, I’m going to put it all on the line.”
Roman said Tuesday that he wants a “strong, powerful” offensive line to protect Jackson and open holes. He said he wants an offense that makes use of Jackson’s “unique skill set.” But as the Ravens’ staff tests its quarterback’s limits, Roman knows Jackson must also learn his.
“Last year, for example, was a learning curve for him on how he would handle a [running] situation,” Roman said. “ ‘Do we really want to take those hits?’ ‘Why would I cut back against the grain when I could take it out the front door into space?’ All of those things started last year. … I think you have to be very judicious on realizing the big picture.”