AFC North: Gary Kubiak

Ravens Camp Report: Day 13

August, 10, 2014
Aug 10
5:15
PM ET
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Baltimore Ravens training camp:
  • Joe Flacco had one of his roughest days of camp, throwing late and high on many of his passes. It got so bad that Flacco cursed at himself. Flacco later was picked off by 49ers' rookie fourth-round pick Dontae Johnson, who returned the interception for a touchdown.
  • Wide receiver Michael Campanaro stood out with his shifty route-running over the middle. The rookie seventh-round pick even earned a handshake from coach John Harbaugh after one catch. Campanaro continues to show flashes as slot receiver. The question is whether he can stay healthy.
  • Another rookie who drew attention was third-round pick Terrence Brooks. Buried on the depth chart for most of camp, Brooks received time with the first-team defense. Injuries to Lardarius Webb (back) and Asa Jackson (ankle) prompted the Ravens to move safety Darian Stewart to nickelback and promote Brooks to starting free safety. Brooks also got a few snaps at nickelback. He is fast but he's still learning the defense.
  • Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak was criticized in Houston for not throwing to the end zone when the Texans reached the red zone. That trend has carried over to the Ravens. It's hard to remember a time in camp when the Ravens haven't throw underneath during red zone drills.
  • The Ravens didn't fare well in one-on-one pass blocking drills between their running backs and tight ends against the 49ers linebackers. Kyle Juszczyk, Lorenzo Taliaferro and Owen Daniels were the only ones to hold their own for the Ravens. Bernard Pierce got beat on his first two tries and then was briefly shaken up after his third attempt to block.
  • Ravens left tackle Eugene Monroe did a solid job against 49ers pass-rusher Aldon Smith. Monroe had struggled at times in going against Terrell Suggs during camp.
  • Schedule: The Ravens hold their third and final joint practice with the San Francisco 49ers at 10:30 a.m. ET Monday. The players get a day off Tuesday.
  • Injury wire: Defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore (Achilles) likely suffered a season-ending injury during practice. ... Cornerback Asa Jackson had to be helped off the field with a "minor" ankle injury, according to Harbaugh. ... Tight end Dennis Pitta missed practice but did come out on the field to watch. "He had a little tweak, and I decided to hold him back and get with a trainer," Harbaugh said. ... Cornerback Lardarius Webb (back) missed his 11th straight practice. He last practiced July 25. ... Guard Will Rackley (head), guard Ryan Jensen (ankle) and safety Brynden Trawick (back) also didn't practice. ... Nose tackle Terrence Cody (hip) is on the physically unable to perform list. ... Defensive end Brent Urban (torn ACL) is out for the season.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- As the new offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens, Gary Kubiak is envisioning shorter passes, quicker releases from his quarterbacks and a play that has been used infrequently in team history.

"I was telling John [Harbaugh] the other night: ‘You know, I think we’ve got a chance to be a pretty good screen team,'" Kubiak said. "Our guards not only are big and physical, but they can get out and run."

Screen passes can be an effective weapon. It's a high-percentage short pass to a running back that can generate yards if the offense gets downfield blocking and the defense is caught blitzing.

But the Ravens have rarely called this play, throwing 123 screen passes since 2001 -- the fourth fewest in the NFL over that span. Only the Dallas Cowboys, Cleveland Browns and Tampa Bay Buccaneers have called it fewer times.

Kubiak feels that can change this season with left guard Kelechi Osemele and right guard Marshal Yanda. They're two of the most physical guards in the league, but they have athleticism for their size. For a screen pass to work, offensive linemen have to run and get in front of the running back in the flat.

It's interesting to note that Kubiak isn't known for using the screen pass often. During Kubiak's eight seasons in Houston, the Texans had 163 screen passes, which ranked 20th in the NFL.
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens are banking on a different offensive coordinator and a new big-name target in the passing game to change their fortunes in 2014, but the jury is out because the offense has been up and down so far in camp.

The biggest reason the Ravens didn't defend their Super Bowl title and failed to reach the playoffs for the first time in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons is because of the fourth-worst offense in the league. Quarterback Joe Flacco threw the second-most interceptions in the league, running back Ray Rice averaged a career-low 3.1 yards per carry and the Ravens scored 20 or fewer points in all but one of the team's losses.

Flacco has looked inconsistent so far in camp while Rice appears to have regained his explosiveness after shedding 15 pounds.

The Ravens' offense will have a different look this season after hiring Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator and signing wide receiver Steve Smith in free agency. In Kubiak's system, Flacco will have to get the ball out his hands quicker, make shorter throws and run more bootlegs. The emphasis has been noticeable in drills as Flacco has tried to get rid of the ball after 3-5 steps.

How much improvement Flacco makes in Kubiak's system will likely determine how much improvement the Ravens make this season.

"The thing I like about what Coach Kubiak is doing, it’s a very straightforward offense. It’s very clear-cut," Harbaugh said. "That helps maybe get guys up to speed as quick as possible. But yes, there are always nuances, and you have to experience things sometimes. I’d like to think that we’ll be better at it a year from now than where we are this year, but we can’t be thinking about it that way. We’ve got to get great at it right now, because we’re going to be playing a football game very soon. It happens to be the Cincinnati Bengals, who won our division last year, so that’s what we’re looking at and that’s what we've got to be ready for.”

The football world hasn't been focused on the Ravens' new-look offense. The center of attention has been Rice, who was suspended two games by the NFL for his alleged domestic violence incident.

The Ravens want to get back to their roots of running the football again, and the key is getting Rice back on track. Can Rice have a productive season after such a tumultuous offseason? He certainly thinks so.

"The football field is my safe haven," Rice said. "Honestly, just coming here being a part of the offseason program, getting in shape, working and doing the things that I’ve always been doing on the football field, [I’m] feeling like my old self again. It’s given me some inspiration to go out there and not only just go out there and play football. It’s giving me inspiration to go out there and be the best football player I can be."

THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco and Gary Kubiak
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyOffensive coordinator Gary Kubiak has a proven record of success.
1. Gary Kubiak's track record. Kubiak brings a proven system and an impressive résumé. As head coach of the Houston Texans, the team ranked in the top 10 in offense in six of his last eight seasons. To put that in perspective, the Ravens’ offense hasn't ranked in the top 10 since 1997, when Flacco was 12 years old. From 2009 to 2012, the Texans ranked No. 7 in points scored (23.2). Over that same period, the Texans were one of three teams to rank in the top 10 in rushing and passing (the New England Patriots and Philadelphia Eagles were the others). The players have praised Kubiak during camp for his direct approach which doesn't leave much gray area.

2. Aggressiveness on defense. The Ravens' offensive struggles last season overshadowed the shortcomings of their defense. In the second half of the season, the Ravens managed a paltry 12 sacks in eight games. Only the Kansas City Chiefs, Dallas Cowboys and Cleveland Browns had fewer. The relentlessly attacking style had disappeared. Based on what the Ravens have shown so far in camp, they want to get back to "in your face" defense. The Ravens certainly have personnel to get after the quarterback with Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil crashing the edges. Expect more blitzes and more press coverage out a Ravens defense that has its sights on becoming a top-five unit in the NFL again, and so far in camp a re-energzied Suggs has been leading the way.

3. Improved targets in passing game. Flacco has taken heavy criticism for the worst season in his six-year NFL career, and rightfully so. He made poor decisions that cost the Ravens some games. Let's just not put all of the blame on the former Super Bowl MVP's shoulders. By Week 2 last year, his No. 2 receiver was undrafted rookie Marlon Brown and his top tight end was Dallas Clark, who has since retired. This year, Flacco has two new experienced targets in Smith and tight end Owen Daniels. While Daniels hasn't looked explosive in training camp, Smith has quickly developed a rapport with Flacco. Don't forget about tight end Dennis Pitta, who is fully recovered after missing 12 games last season with a dislocated hip. This could turn out to be Flacco's strongest and deepest supporting cast.

THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM

1. Lack of depth at cornerback. The Ravens have one of the best starting cornerback tandems in the league with Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith, both of whom are Pro Bowl-caliber defenders. The problem is neither has a history of staying healthy. Webb, who is already expected to miss two preseason games with a back injury, has torn two knee ligaments during his five-year NFL career and has started 16 games in a season only once. Smith has missed nine games in his three NFL seasons. After Aaron Ross suffered a season-ending Achilles injury before camp officially began, the Ravens have been left with inexperienced and unproven backups. Chykie Brown played 3 percent of the defensive snaps last season, Asa Jackson has never played a defensive snap in a regular-season game and Tramain Jacobs and Deji Olatoye are undrafted rookies. This is the Ravens' soft spot. Brown has struggled the most of any defender in camp and Jackson has had his share of struggles as well.

2. The progression of the offensive line. There's no doubt that the Ravens will have a better offensive line than last year. To be honest, it couldn't be worse. The line opened few holes in the running game and allowed too much pressure on Flacco. The biggest question on offense is whether this line has improved enough to the point where the Ravens can be effective. Through almost a dozen practices at camp, the line hasn't provided too many definitive answers. Guards Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have been dominant. But left tackle Eugene Monroe has had struggles and right tackle Rick Wagner has been adequate. Center Jeremy Zuttah is athletic but he's not going to be considered among the top half at his position. The Ravens will learn more about their offensive line when the preseason begins.

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's Terrell Suggs
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyAn energized Terrell Suggs has looked like the best defender in Ravens' camp.
3. Age of key players. The Ravens are much younger than when they won the Super Bowl two seasons ago. That being said, the Ravens' hopes rest on aging veterans to rebound from disappointing seasons. Suggs, 31, failed to record a sack in seven of his final eight games in 2013. Steve Smith, 35, caught his fewest passes (64) since 2010. Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata, 30, hasn't reached 60 tackles in consecutive seasons. Defensive end Chris Canty, 31, finished last season with 30 tackles, the fewest for a full season in his career. Daniels, 31, was limited to five games last season due to a broken leg. The Ravens need to get more than leadership out of their older players this season. While Suggs and Smith have been among the top performers in camp, Canty and Daniels haven’t stood out.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • As camp reaches its midway point, Flacco gets a "C" grade. He's made his share of good passes, and there have been some throws that have made coaches cringe. His biggest improvements has been his play-action fakes and his cadence, which he has used to draw more defenders offside than any previous training camp.
  • It's hard to overlook Suggs because he's always trash-talking with players on offense. But he has stood out in this camp as the most impressive player on the defensive side of the ball. There have been times when he's been dominant. Offensive tackles Monroe and Wagner probably can't wait for the preseason to start, so they get a break from seeing an energized Suggs in front of them.
  • The Ravens have to feel like they got two first-round picks this year in inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan. Mosley is continually around the ball, and Jernigan is constantly in the backfield. If Mosley makes the same types of plays in the regular season, the Ravens' top pick has a shot at being the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Jernigan, a second-round pick, has been sidelined recently with a back injury. But it's not expected to be long term, which is a big relief for the Ravens.
  • Bernard Pierce has been the best running back in camp. He played in a similar running scheme in college, and he has had the best transition to Kubiak's stretch, zone-blocking runs.
  • Fulback Kyle Juszczyk has a chance to have a breakout season. While he isn't the typical physical blocker that the Ravens have at fullback, Juszczyk will make a much bigger impact in the passing game.
  • Will Hill looks to be the most talented safety on the roster. He's suspended for the first six games of the season, so the former New York Giants defender won't provide immediate help. Don't be surprised if Hill is a starter at some point this year for the Ravens.
  • The biggest surprise of camp has been wide receiver Kamar Aiken. He started camp as a long shot, and he has quickly worked himself into the conversation for one of the last spots at receiver. Aiken, who has been cut by three teams in his career, rarely drops a pass because of his strong hands.

Throughout the entire offseason, the Baltimore Ravens have talked about how they believe quarterback Joe Flacco will succeed in Gary Kubiak's offense.

"It’s a timing offense, and to me, Joe is really built for that," coach John Harbaugh said.

In Kubiak's new system, Flacco likely will be asked to get the ball out quicker. Kubiak is teaching him to throw when he hits the ball of his foot on the three-step drop. The West Coast offense is predicated on rhythm and quick releases.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyThe Ravens are hoping quarterback Joe Flacco will be better off with a quicker release.
Based on last season's numbers, the Ravens may be on to something. Flacco was better when he had less time in the pocket, according to Pro Football Focus.

It came as a surprise to see that Flacco had put up better statistics with less time in the pocket. With his big arm, it was assumed he would've performed better when he had more time to look downfield. That wasn't the case in 2013.

With less than 2 seconds in the pocket, Flacco completed 68.3 percent of his passes for eight touchdowns and six interceptions. His passer rating was 80.5.

With more than 3 seconds to throw, he connected on 46.2 percent of his passes for two touchdown and four interceptions. His rating was 61.1.

Getting Flacco to throw the ball quicker also will help with his longevity. He was sacked a career-high 48 times last season, and he was limping in the final two games because of a knee sprain. During the past six seasons, Flacco hasn't missed a start, but he has been sacked 222 times. Only the Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger (240) and the Packers' Aaron Rodgers (223) have been sacked more.

There also will be more targets for his short-to-intermediate throws this season. He can hit wide receiver Steve Smith on a comeback route or find tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels over the middle. This should increase the efficiency for Flacco, whose 6.94 yards per attempt ranks 21st in the NFL since 2008.

Asked if Kubiak's offense is catered to what he does best as a quarterback, Flacco said: "I feel like I fit well into any offense. It’s just a matter of learning it and doing what I can do to the best of my ability and making sure that what I’m doing well is what the offensive coordinator wants, and what the quarterback coach wants. I want to run the offense the way it is supposed to be run and make some plays here and there when they need to be made.

"But the biggest thing is doing what you’re supposed to do, going to the right place with the ball with the right coverages. That’s just learning the offense and listening to your coach and making sure you get comfortable doing it that way.”
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When you play a Gary Kubiak offense, you know you'll have to prepare for bootlegs, play-action passes and a zone-blocking running scheme.

What you don't know is what formation you'll line up against.

Kubiak
In his first season as the Ravens' offensive coordinator, Kubiak brings much-needed unpredictability to an offense that was the NFL's most predictable last season. He'll go three-wide on one play, use two tight ends on the next and then change it up again with two running backs lining up in I-formation.

Asked how different the Ravens offense looks this year from his vantage point, defensive coordinator Dean Pees said, "A lot. A lot. It’s a very multiple. ... He’s given us a lot of headaches and a lot of things for us to talk about as a defensive staff, which is good."

You didn't have to be Bill Belichick to know how the Ravens were going to line up last season. The Ravens went with three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back on 806 snaps, which was the most of any NFL team last season.

Some of it had to do with the Ravens' personnel last season, and part of the reason was the team's ineffectiveness in its usual two-back alignment. As a result, the Ravens lined up in that formation 74 percent of the time.

Compare that to formations run by Kubiak when he was the Houston Texans head coach from 2006 to 2013:
  • 3WR, 1 TE, 1 RB: 28 percent
  • 2WR, 1 TE, 2 RB: 26 percent
  • 2WR, 2TE, 1 RB: 26 percent

It's difficult to get more balanced than Kubiak's offense over the previous eight seasons. If he continues to use these multiple formations as frequently this year, Owen Daniels (No. 2 tight end), Marlon Brown (No. 3 wide receiver) and Kyle Juszczyk (fullback) all will play significant roles.

The balancing act for Kubiak this offseason has been installing all of these different looks while trying to establish a comfort level for the players.

"That’s my challenge right now," Kubiak said. "It really is -- finding out what we do best and making sure I don’t overload them. But I did think it was very important that we challenge them mentally as well as physically, especially throughout the course of OTAs [organized training activities]. I told them that. I said, ‘Guys, I’m going to throw a lot at you. We need to go make some mistakes, but let’s go make them hard. We’ll figure it out and make sure on opening day we’re doing what we do best.’ I think that’s been important, and they’ve responded to that.”

Change was in order for a Ravens offense that finished No. 29 in total yards (307.4) and No. 25 in scoring (20.0). Kubiak has been working with the Ravens for three weeks of offseason practices, and he'll have a mandatory minicamp next week before training camp begins in late July.

The transition has been helped by having someone in nearly every position group who has a familiarity with Kubiak's system. Daniels can teach the tight ends about the different nuances, and wide receiver Jacoby Jones and running back Justin Forsett can do the same, too.

"I’m throwing the kitchen sink at them, and then I have to kind of watch and see what sticks and what they do best," Kubiak said. "When we come back for camp, I’ll probably have to cut some things down. We have plenty of time from a teaching standpoint, plenty of time on the field. I’m just taking it a day at a time, but I think we’re building something."
OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- If you couldn't guess by Jacoby Jones' "I Love Bmore" hat that he wanted to stay with the Ravens, the electric Pro Bowl returner proved it by abruptly ending his visit with the New York Giants on Wednesday and taking less money to remain in Baltimore.

"I'm in the [Giants] facility walking around and I think I came to my senses really that this is probably the only place that will let me be myself," Jones said Thursday.

Jones
Jones was getting in a car to go to downtown New York for a dinner with the Giants before he officially pulled a reverse.

"I told the driver, head toward Newark. Take me to the airport," Jones said. "I told my agent that I knew I was coming home."

Jones signed a four-year, $12 million deal that includes $4.5 million guaranteed. How much less was the Ravens' offer compared the one from the Giants?

"I don't know," Jones said with a smile. "I'm not good at math."

One incentive to stay was the addition of Gary Kubiak as the Ravens' offensive coordinator. Kubiak was Jones' head coach for five seasons (2007-11) when both were with the Houston Texans.

Jones referred to Kubiak as his "biological father" because he never knew his own father. He remembered a conversation during his time in Houston when Kubiak sat him down after he was a self-described "knucklehead."

"He told me when you slow down and mature, you're going to have a chance to make a lot of money," Jones said.

Jones was cut by the Texans in May 2012 after he mishandled a punt that led to Houston's playoff loss at Baltimore. He joined the Ravens and redefined himself as one of the top playmakers in the league.

In two seasons, Jones has scored 10 touchdowns in 28 games. Since 2012, his 29.8-yard kickoff return average ranks third in the NFL and his four returns for touchdowns (three kickoff and one punt) is tied for the most in the league over that span.

Coach John Harbaugh insisted that the Ravens brought back Jones to be more than a returner, even though he has caught 67 passes in two seasons in Baltimore.

"He's also a quality receiver," Harbaugh said. "He's a special-teams player, but he's also a guy that can do the things that you need to do to move the chains when you need to move them. It's something that he's probably grown into over the last three or four years as a football player. Without question, we believe his best football is in front of him."
Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice spoke to coach John Harbaugh on Monday to explain his arrest in Atlantic City, according to The Baltimore Sun.

Rice
Rice
Why did it take three days for the sides to communicate? Rice was arrested and charged in an incident involving his fiancee on Friday night. As soon as Rice was allowed to go home, his first call should have been to the team. If the Ravens hadn't heard from him, they should have been on the phone to find out what happened.

This isn't the third-string cornerback. This is the most important player on offense, according to offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak. "I think as he goes, we'll go," Kubiak told the team's official website in an article that was posted hours before Rice's arrest.

Newsome told reporters Monday afternoon that neither he nor Harbaugh had talked with Rice. He said Rice is currently "a big part" of the Ravens' plans in 2014 but he said a decision wouldn't be made until he gets all of the answers. Maybe Rice's talk with Harbaugh clarified the situation. Rice's lawyers insist it was a "little more than a misunderstanding."

As I pointed out previously, Rice isn't in danger of being cut. Releasing him would cause the Ravens to lose salary-cap space instead of gain it, based on the way Rice's contract is structured. But Rice could get cut next season. Maybe the Ravens need to communicate that to him as well.

Here's the rest of your wake-up caw ...
  • Kubiak told the team's official website that he's confident quarterback Joe Flacco can run the bootleg. On that same topic, he clarified a perception of his offense. "Yeah [the bootleg] is a big part of what we do, but we've got to be able to do everything," Kubiak said. "It's funny how you get labeled with certain things. I hope that people would look at us and say we're going to have to do whatever have to do to win."
  • Rice's image could get tarnished by the assault charge, according to The Baltimore Sun. "It doesn't look good for him," said Howe Burch, a top executive with Baltimore-based TBC Advertising. "I think it clearly undermines the image he has crafted with the Ravens as one who gives back to the community. It's clearly a blemish on him and something he'll have to overcome."
  • The Ravens will keep their eyes on running backs at the NFL combine, according to Comcast SportsNet.

Tracking AFC North coaching changes

February, 5, 2014
Feb 5
11:00
AM ET
PITTSBURGH -- Staggering might be a bit strong when looking at the amount of coaching turnover that has taken place in the AFC North.

But there has been a lot of it in the last six weeks, which leads me to a story even if it does poke fun at yours truly.

I decided to recap all of the coaching changes in the division, reaching out to the other ESPN.com AFC North reporters about the comings and goings on their respective teams.

Here is the response I got from ESPN.com Brown reporter (and noted nemesis of mine) Pat McManamon: Um ... Scott ... except for special teams coach, they've changed the entire staff.

Uh, yeah, would make sense that a new head coach hires his own staff. I appreciated Pat not calling me stupid though I'm pretty sure he implied it (Pat, I must be getting too much sun here in Pittsburgh).

But I digress. Here is an update on the coaching staffs in the AFC North (teams in order of 2013 finish).

Cincinnati Bengals
Jackson
Jackson
What has changed: The Bengals have two new coordinators, Hue Jackson (offense) and Paul Guenther (defense), after Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer left for head coaching jobs.
Most significant hire: Guenther. Zimmer, who left for Minnesota, had been a widely respected coordinator. The Bengals finished no worse than seventh in the NFL in total defense in each of the previous three seasons, Guenther, who was promoted from linebackers coach to take over for Zimmer, has said he will call plays with the same aggressiveness that defined his predecessor.
Skinny: Head coach Marvin Lewis stayed in-house to replace both coordinators, and Jackson is expected to emphasize the run more, something the Bengals got away from in their playoff loss to the San Diego Chargers. Look for Jackson to take better advantage of Giovani Bernard, who flashed as a rookie and should get more touches after splitting carries with the plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis in 2013.

Pittsburgh Steelers
Munchak
What has changed: Mike Munchak is the new offensive line coach, and the Steelers essentially traded running backs coaches with the Vikings with Kirby Wilson joining Zimmer's new staff in Minnesota and James Saxon replacing Wilson.
Most significant hire: Munchak. The Pro Football Hall of Famer becomes the third former head coach who is now an assistant on Tomlin's staff, and there are incredibly high hopes for him. His credentials as a player and an offensive line coach make this one of Tomlin's best hires -- and one that Steelers' fans appear to be unanimous in applauding.
Skinny: Tomlin's staff for 2014 appears to be set. Defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky was a candidate to become the linebackers coach in Buffalo but that position has been filled. Munchak is expected to institute a zone-blocking scheme and there may not be a more qualified person on the planet to teach it. I've written how Le'Veon Bell could be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the zone-blocking scheme. Here is what former Titans tight end and current radio talk show host Frank Wyche told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about Bell in that scheme: "He's going to run the ball like Eddie George did for us."

Baltimore Ravens
Kubiak
What has changed: John Harbaugh made plenty of changes after the Ravens went 8-8 and missed the playoffs a season after winning the Super Bowl. Gary Kubiak is the new offensive coordinator and Rick Dennison, has followed Kubiak to Baltimore. Dennison, the Texans' offensive coordinator for the previous four seasons under Kubiak, will coach the Ravens' quarterbacks
Most significant hire: Kubiak. The former Texans head coach wasn't among the three finalists for the offensive coordinator job, but Harbaugh convinced him to join his staff. Kubiak's biggest challenge is reviving a ground attack that mustered just 3.0 yards per carry in 2013, the worst in the NFL. The Texans always seemed to be able to run the ball during Kubiak's tenure in Houston so he is probably the right coach to fix the Ravens' broken ground game.
The skinny: Harbaugh now has two former NFL head coaches on his staff with assistant head coach/secondary coach Steve Spagnuolo joining Kubiak in that distinction. There are still openings at running backs coach and wide receivers coach to fill. When Harbaugh has finished rounding out his staff he will have made six changes to it. The previous high as far as coaches Harbaugh had to replace in an offseason was four in 2011.

Cleveland Browns
Pettigrew
Pettine
What has changed: Well, just about everything and yet not much at all to jaded Browns fans. Cleveland dumped Rob Chudzinski after just one season. What seemed like an interminable search for his successor turned up former Bills defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, who didn't appear to be on any other teams' radar as far as head-coaching candidates. Former Bills linebackers coach Jim O'Neil is the new defensive coordinator while former Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan now holds the same position in Cleveland.
Most significant hire: After Pettine, it is Shanahan. The former will be tasked with grooming the quarterback of the future and getting more out of an offense that has a legitimate star in wide receiver Josh Gordon but is lacking overall at the skill positions. The Browns have two first-round draft picks, including No. 4 overall, this year and they figure to take a quarterback with one of those selections.
The skinny: The Pettine hire didn't inspire much hope among Browns fans so add that to the list of things working against him in Cleveland. The Browns might have been able to lure defensive coordinator Dan Quinn away from Seattle had they waited longer to hire Chudzinski's replacement. That too will loom over Pettine's first season in Cleveland, especially if his results are similar to the ones that got Chudzinski fired.
Not everyone believes Gary Kubiak is the right offensive coordinator for the Baltimore Ravens. Doug Gottlieb, of CBS Sports, thinks quarterback Joe Flacco doesn't fit with Kubiak's scheme.

“You need a really athletic quarterback because you’re running a lot of bootlegs, and that’s not really Joe Flacco,” Gottlieb said. “It’s not that Joe Flacco isn’t a good athlete, he’s actually a really good athlete, but he’s not somebody you want to roll out, plant his feet and throw the ball. He’s a downfield thrower."

I agree that Flacco is at his best when he can throw in a clean pocket. But he showed his athleticism last year when he scrambled (or ran for his life) to repeatedly avoid the pass rush.

I don't see a Todd Haley-Ben Roethlisberger relationship developing here. Gottlieb believes otherwise.

“This to me strikes me as a guy who is a really good offensive coordinator with a really good quarterback with a really bad fit for each other," Gottlieb said. "I don’t see them getting better. I see them fighting over the play calling and the set up and the depth of the drops.”

Here's the rest of your wake-up caw:
  • The Baltimore Sun's Matt Vensel doesn't rule out a reunion between Kubiak and fullback Vonta Leach based on their mutual respect from the time they spent together with the Houston Texans. What works against Leach is the Ravens can create $1.75 million in salary-cap room by cutting him and they need to get Kyle Juszczyk on the field more.
  • After being turned down for the Ravens' offensive coordinator job, Kyle Shanahan spoke with the Cleveland Browns on Tuesday morning about their offensive coordinator position, sources told ESPN.com's John Keim. This might explain why Shanahan didn't take the Ravens' quarterbacks coach job.
  • Safety Michael Huff has gone from getting cut by the Ravens in the middle of the season to playing in a Super Bowl with the Denver Broncos. Huff told Comcast SportsNet that there are no hard feelings with the Ravens. “I didn’t play well enough. I didn’t live up to my end of the bargain," Huff said. "When they cut me, I understood. They needed some guys on special teams, and I wasn’t getting the job done.”
Rick Dennison was announced as the Baltimore Ravens' quarterbacks coach. He will be listed on the team's website and media guide as the quarterbacks coach.

But Dennison isn't really going to be a quarterbacks coach. At least, that's my interpretation.

Dennison is more of the assistant offensive coordinator. He's gong to be a liaison of sorts in getting Kubiak's system in place.

Let's be honest, no one expected Dennison to be named quarterbacks coach. He played linebacker for eight seasons for the Denver Broncos. In his 19 years of coaching, Dennison has never held the title of quarterbacks coach. He spent time as a special teams coordinator and an offensive line coach during his time with the Broncos, and he served as the Houston Texans offensive coordinator for the past four seasons.
This is why Dennison won't be strictly as quarterbacks coach. Dennison even said as much.

“The last few years, being a coordinator with Gary [Kubiak] in Houston, I was predominantly in the quarterback room," Dennison said. "I know how he thinks with a quarterback, how he coaches a quarterback, having spent my time with him. But also I’m going to touch as many areas as I can. I know what kind of system he likes -- run and pass -- having dealt with it for a long time. So, I’ll try to do as much as I can to help that whole process.”

When news broke about Kubiak being the Ravens' front-runner for offensive coordinator, it was assumed Kyle Shanahan was going to be quarterbacks coach. But Shanahan apparently didn't want a reduced role after being in contention for the Ravens' coordinator job. He is now in the running for the Cleveland Browns' coordinator position.

There was never any question that Dennison was going to come along with Kubiak. They've coached together for 11 years in the NFL. ESPN.com's Tania Ganguli wrote about the close relationship with Dennison and Kubiak. Sitting in between them at Monday's news conference, coach John Harbaugh moved back and joking asked reporters whether you could see the rope that tied Dennison and Kubiak at the hip.

The perfect spot for Dennison would be coaching the offensive line, but the Ravens are reportedly committed to paying Juan Castillo more than $1 million in that role this season. It wasn't like the Ravens were going to name Dennison the "run game coordinator" because that didn't go over too well last season.

My guess is Dennison will hold the title, but Kubiak will be hanging around the quarterbacks quite a bit. Kubiak is a former quarterback and quarterbacks coach.

Harbaugh noted that the addition of Dennison gives the offense a chance to be well-organized.

"We have a chance to tie the whole thing together, and to me that’s the most important thing," Harbaugh said. "We’re going to have a chance to take the quarterback room and tie it to the running back, tight end, the offensive line, the wide receivers. And that’s what Rick is going to give us a chance to do. Having been in the system so many times before -- he’ll be an extension of Gary in the quarterback room, but also across the whole offense. That’s what got me excited about him. It’s a unique way of doing it, and it’s going to be a really effective way of doing it.”
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh denied being mandated to hire Gary Kubiak as his offensive coordinator after a surprising turn of events in the team's search.

Kubiak
There has been speculation that owner Steve Bisciotti and general manager Ozzie Newsome influenced Harbaugh's decision because Kubiak emerged so late in the process. The Ravens reportedly were down to two other finalists after a two-week search, and then turned their attention to Kubiak late last week.

Asked whether Bisciotti was heavy-handed in the process, Harbaugh said, "Steve is always involved. Steve’s going to be involved. This is his team, and he sets the tone and the tempo for everything we do, and I listen, as we all do, to Steve’s advice. It would be foolish not to. Now, if you’re going further than that, then the answer is ‘no, no way.’ Steve gets involved to whatever extent he feels like he can help us, and that’s what he does."

Harbaugh named four candidates for the offensive coordinator position last week: former Washington Redskins offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, former Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Scott Linehan, Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson (who is now with the Minnesota Vikings) and Ravens wide receivers coach Jim Hostler.

The Ravens conducted second interviews with Shanahan, Hostler and Wilson at the end of last week. Wilson told reporters Saturday that he was eliminated from contention. There were multiple reports that Harbaugh was going to choose between Shanahan and Hostler.

So, what changed? Harbaugh acknowledged that it was those four candidates at that point because "I don’t think coach [Kubiak] and I had come to the idea that it could work."

Harbaugh added, "At the time, we talked about the four of them, then continued conversations with Gary and with Rick [Dennison], and that evolved, I would say, in the last few days -- last five or six days."

Kubiak said he didn't begin talking to Harbaugh until the last few days. It wasn't until Sunday night at the dinner table of Harbaugh's home that the sides realized it could work.

"Of course, Gary Kubiak was on the list from the beginning," Harbaugh said, "but within the last week, it became apparent that this had a chance to be a fit for both coach and for the Ravens, and we were able to finish it up this weekend.”

Another Steelers coach on the move?

January, 28, 2014
Jan 28
8:00
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Steel City wake-up: morning links

There could be more turnover on the Steelers’ coaching staff.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac reports that defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky will interview with the Buffalo Bills for the job of linebackers coach.

Dulac also offers his take on the departure of running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who has accepted the same job with the Minnesota Vikings. I have heard there was some friction between offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Wilson, but that the latter’s desire to leave probably had as much to do with getting more of an opportunity somewhere else.

The shame of Wilson’s departure isn’t as much that the Steelers are losing one of the better coaches on their staff and one who was widely respected in the organization. Rather, Wilson would have received strong consideration to become the Steelers’ offensive coordinator in 2012 after the organization did not renew Bruce Arians’ contract.
  • From the Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette takes a look at Denver’s John Fox, who learned a few lessons from the legendary Chuck Noll while in Pittsburgh.
  • From Baltimore, ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley is no longer covering the search for an offensive coordinator. And so much for the four finalists that the Ravens announced last week. Hensley writes about former Texans coach Gary Kubiak, who is joining John Harbaugh’s staff.
  • From Cleveland, ESPN.com’s Pat McManamon is no longer covering a coaching search but he is still tracking the staff that Mike Pettine is putting together.
  • I talked to ESPN NFL Insider Matt Williamson, a former NFL scout, on Monday and he had some interesting things to say about the Steelers. Among the positions he thinks are the team's biggest draft need? Defensive end. Williamson doesn't expect Ziggy Hood or Brett Keisel to return unless the latter comes back at what would essentially be the minimum salary for a 10-plus year veteran. More from Williamson throughout the week.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- When the Baltimore Ravens announced Gary Kubiak as offensive coordinator Monday, they also named Rick Dennison as the quarterbacks coach. Make no mistake: Getting Joe Flacco back on track is Kubiak's project.

The Ravens can talk about having a rough and tough philosophy on offense. They can preach about the importance of the running game. How Kubiak will be measured as an offensive coordinator is his impact on Flacco.

It was 11 months ago when the Ravens invested $52 million in guaranteed money in Flacco. Every move this offseason, beginning with the hiring of the offensive coordinator, has to be made with the focus of making Flacco better. If the Ravens want to get back to the Super Bowl, they need the deep-ball-throwing Flacco from January 2013 and not the interception-prone Flacco from last season.

"You definitely build your offense around your quarterback," coach John Harbaugh said. "It starts with Joe, and those are conversations that we've had going forward. So, we are going to do whatever we can to make Joe the best player he can be, and Joe is fired up about that."

This is why it's dumbfounding that it took the Ravens two weeks to complete their search. It should've taken two days. When the Ravens started look for their next play-caller, there were two candidates that stood out from the rest: Kubiak and Norv Turner. And, if the Browns weren't going to give the Ravens permission to speak to Turner, the no-brainer choice was Kubiak.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
AP Photo/Nick WassJoe Flacco passed for 3,912 yards with 19 TDs and a career-worst 22 interceptions in 2013.
Why? Just look at his track record with quarterbacks:

In 2000, Brian Griese led the NFL with a 102.9 passer rating.

In 2004, Jake Plummer ranked fourth in the league with 4,089 yards passing, one more than Brett Favre.

In 2009, Matt Schaub led the NFL in passing with 4,770 yards.

Three mediocre quarterbacks, three unbelievable results. Flacco has a better tool set than all of those quarterbacks, and even the harshest critic would agree with that. It had to cross the Ravens' mind that, if Kubiak can work this magic with an average-at-best quarterback like Schaub, imagine how much of a positive influence he can have on Flacco.

It comes as no surprise that Kubiak had already chatted with Flacco before his introductory news conference began. Their relationship will go a long ways in turning around the NFL's 29th-ranked offense.

"It's our job to find the things that Joe is comfortable with and to make him as successful as we possibly can. And we'll do that," Kubiak said. "I'm just looking forward to sitting down with Joe and really picking his brain in a lot of ways and [seeing] how he has been taught and what he's done in the past. He's a championship quarterback, and that's all you can ask for as a coach in this league."

This is just the start to the offense's reclamation project. The Ravens need to find another wide receiver. They have to find a way to either keep Dennis Pitta or bring in another pass-catching tight end. They have to bring back Eugene Monroe or get someone else just as reliable to protect Flacco's blind side.

In the end, it comes down to Flacco. The Ravens were Super Bowl champions when he threw 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in the playoffs. Baltimore was an 8-8 team when he had 19 touchdowns and 22 interceptions.

This is why the Ravens needed Kubiak. The Ravens and Flacco are in a much better spot today than they were when the season ended, just based on Kubiak's history with elevating a quarterback's play.

"Joe and I need to sit down together, and I need to talk to him about how he feels with what he’s done up to this point -- how he feels about the future and what he thinks he needs to do better," Kubiak said. "I need to take my vision of that and study Joe over the course of the [next few weeks] -- starting here very early [Tuesday] morning. And together, we come up with that plan -- how we make him better, how we progress as a player."
All signs point to the Baltimore Ravens naming Gary Kubiak their offensive coordinator as well as adding Kyle Shanahan and Rick Dennison to the staff. What does this all mean? Let's take a look.

When did Kubiak become a candidate?

Judging by how the search unfolded, it looks like Kubiak became a viable option late in the process. Coach John Harbaugh named four candidates last week to the team's official website, and Kubiak wasn't mentioned. The interest in Kubiak gives the impression that the Ravens had a change of plans after second interviews with Shanahan and Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson. Kubiak should've been near the top of the Ravens' list when the search began. But he's still getting paid by the Houston Texans and he reportedly turned down the Cleveland Browns when they looked at him as coordinator. So, the Ravens must have made it worth his while to peak his interest.

How will the offensive staff look?

It's all speculation at this point. The most logical move is Shanahan becoming the quarterbacks coach. He served in that role in Houston in 2007. What will be interesting is to see how Dennison fits. Before Dennison was the Texans' offensive coordinator for the past three years, his background was the offensive line. But Harbaugh has already named Juan Castillo as his offensive line coach. How Harbaugh defines Dennison's responsibilities will be more important than his title. The only other opening on the offensive staff right now is running backs coach, and I don't envision Harbaugh putting Dennison at this spot with no prior experience at this position. It's unknown whether there will be further shakeup. The other offensive coaches on staff -- wide receivers coach Jim Hostler, tight ends coach Wade Harman and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller -- have all been with Harbaugh since he came to Baltimore in 2008.

Are there too many "cooks in the kitchen?"

This was asked by Scott Graham, one of my Twitter followers. I can understand the question because you don't want too many voices in Joe Flacco's ear. This was a problem years ago when Brian Billick, Jim Fassel and Rick Neuheisel all had their own opinions on the direction of the offense. But Kubiak has a history with Dennison and Shanahan. Dennison has worked under Kubiak for 11 years, and Shanahan has been on his staff for four years. They know how to put a game plan together, and it showed in the results with the offenses in Denver and Houston. In the end, it's better to bring in three coaches with a proven track record than simply promote within just to keep cohesion.

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