AFC North: Wildcat offense

On the radar: Troy Smith

July, 1, 2010
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A player, coach or issue that should be on your radar as training camp approaches.

Troy Smith is a perfect example of how quickly things can change in the NFL.

Two years ago, Smith was the favorite to be the starting quarterback of the Baltimore Ravens. He was within weeks of winning the job before a tonsil infection knocked him out the competition and gift-wrapped it for then-rookie Joe Flacco, who ran with the opportunity.

[+] EnlargeSmith
Marvin Gentry/US PresswireTroy Smith's future in Baltimore remains uncertain.
Two years later, Smith is in limbo and he could be trade bait. He's the projected third quarterback behind Flacco and recent acquisition Marc Bulger heading into training camp.

"It's a part of the game," Smith recently told Mike Duffy of "The situation, there's not much that we as players can do about it."

Smith seems to be taking the high road despite his unsure future with the Ravens. This offseason, his representation made it clear that Smith would like the opportunity to try to earn a starting role elsewhere. He only carried a fifth-round tender but there were no takers.

Now the question is would teams reconsider Smith if there's an injury? Would the Ravens lower their asking price to a sixth- or seventh-rounder in 2011? Or would Baltimore be content to keep Smith around as the emergency quarterback?

Smith's biggest contribution to the team was his ability to run the "Suggs package," which was Baltimore's variation of the Wildcat offense. But as the No. 3 quarterback, Smith by rule could not play unless Flacco is benched or injured for the remainder of the game.

Barring injury, there just isn't much room for Smith to contribute to Baltimore this year. Sure, a team can never have enough quarterbacks with starting experience. The Ravens have four: Flacco, Bulger, Smith and John Beck. But at least one has to go before the Sept. 13 opener against the New York Jets.

That leaves either Smith or Beck as the odd man out, and the trade market for Smith could be the determining factor.
Here are the most interesting stories Thursday in the AFC North:

  • A rough upbringing helped lead to the success of Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice.
Morning take: Adversity can often breed character, and Rice is a good example of how mental toughness translates on the gridiron.

Morning take: Ward has taken it slow for the past few offseasons. The coaching staff trusts that Ward will be ready when it counts.

  • New Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Adam Jones says he is giving up the "Pacman" nickname.
Morning take: Jones is out to prove that he's changed as a person. If Jones is correct, it could pay dividends for the Bengals' secondary.

  • The Cleveland Browns may run the Wildcat offense next season with backup quarterback Seneca Wallace.
Morning take: The Browns ran the Wildcat last year with Josh Cribbs but struggled throwing from the formation. Wallace's ability to throw could change that.

Who is Dennis Dixon?

November, 23, 2009
Those in Pittsburgh are fully aware of Dennis Dixon. But there are a lot of football fans around the country who are unfamiliar with the Steelers’ third-string quarterback, who may start Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

Here is a quick bio on Dixon:

Age: 24

College: Oregon

Draft status: Fifth round (No. 156 overall) to Pittsburgh in 2008

Notes: Dixon has thrown one career pass for three yards in his NFL career. It was to receiver Hines Ward in 2008... Dixon suffered a significant knee injury in his final season at Oregon, which is a major reason his stock dropped in the NFL draft... He is quick and has the ability to make plays with his feet. But Dixon really worked on improving his accuracy in the offseason and in training camp to fit in Pittsburgh's offense... There have been rumors in the past that the Steelers would implement a Wildcat package with Dixon, but the coaching staff said they were not interesting in running that style of offense.

Morning take: Ravens healthy again

October, 27, 2009
Posted by’s James Walker

Here are the most interesting stories Tuesday in the AFC North: Morning take: This is one key to making a run in the second half of the season. I’m eager to see what the Ravens (3-3) have planned for the undefeated Denver Broncos after two weeks away.
  • Now it’s the Cincinnati Bengals’ turn to rest and prepare for the stretch run.
Morning take: The Bengals won’t take the field again until Nov. 8 against the Ravens. That meeting will be crucial to how the division race shapes up going forward.
  • The Pittsburgh Steelers enter their bye banged up on defense.
Morning take: After a physical battle with the Minnesota Vikings, linebacker Lawrence Timmons (ankle) and defense end Travis Kirschke (calf) both were injured. Starting safety Ryan Clark also has health concerns with the thin air in Denver, which is the location of Pittsburgh’s next game.
Morning take: The Browns continue to search for an identity on offense. At what point will they find it?

Browns-Steelers halftime notes

October, 18, 2009
Posted by’s James Walker

PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers lead the Cleveland Browns, 17-7, at intermission.

Here are some halftime observations:
  • The Browns used the Wildcat offense more in the first half Sunday they had all season. Joshua Cribbs took a lot of snaps at quarterback and even threw the football a couple times, which included an interception. The expanded package shows the Browns are trying different avenues to spark an offense that’s struggled most of this season.
  • Pittsburgh Pro Bowl Troy Polamalu looks solid in his return. He made the first tackle of the game for the Steelers and also picked off Cribbs in the first quarter. Polamalu isn’t playing at the line of scrimmage as much and staying back in coverage in the first half. He has two tackles and an interception through two quarters.
  • Browns quarterback Derek Anderson isn’t off to a great start. A week after completing 2 of 17 passes, Anderson is 2 for 9 for 14 yards in the first half. Perhaps the Wildcat formation is hurting his ability to get in rhythm, but the Browns aren’t making many plays in the passing game.
  • Cleveland’s offense isn’t doing much, but Cribbs put up points via the return game. Cribbs’ 98-yard kickoff return was the team’s only score. It also added to Cribbs’ success against Pittsburgh, as he’s given the Steelers plenty of headaches in the past.

Can the Ravens defend the 'Wildcat?'

October, 16, 2008

Posted by's James Walker

The Miami Dolphins' "Wildcat" formation has been all the rage this year.

It's also been an offensive wrinkle that no opponent has been able to solve.

Enter the Baltimore Ravens, owners of the NFL's top-rated defense.

If anyone can figure out the "Wildcat" quandary, it could be Baltimore's defense led by linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, who are two of the smartest defenders in the league.

"The way we play defense, it doesn't matter," Lewis told reporters in Baltimore this week. "All we've got to find is the football -- that's the bottom line. I just think they're doing some creative things to try to really disguise and trick people. But the bottom line is just find the football."

Miami (2-3) tailbacks Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams are off to tremendous starts, in part, because of the spark the "Wildcat" offense provides. The pair have combined for 571 rushing yards and eight touchdowns through five games.

The Ravens (2-3), meanwhile, haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in an NFL-best 24 consecutive games. It will be interesting to see if Miami's "Wildcat" can challenge Baltimore's streak this weekend.