NFL Nation: Cam Cameron

BATON ROUGE, La. – It sounds like a novel idea in today’s NFL. But if a team is actually willing to draft a quarterback and give him a full year to develop before thrusting him into the starting lineup, then LSU’s Zach Mettenberger might just be their guy.

Six months, at least.

Mettenberger certainly wouldn’t agree with this idea. He’s so adamant to prove that he’ll be NFL-ready as a rookie that he went out and performed a grueling and impressive pro day workout Wednesday just 13 weeks after having surgery to repair a torn ACL.

[+] EnlargeZach Mettenberger
AP Photo/Jonathan Bachman"You can win a world championship with Zach Mettenberger," LSU offensive coordinator and ex-NFL coach Cam Cameron said on Wednesday.
Mettenberger insisted he’ll be 100 percent by next month’s rookie minicamps and ready to compete for a job by training camp.

Maybe he’s right. It’s hard to doubt him after the grit he showed on Wednesday, throwing roughly 125 passes in a fast-paced workout that many NFL talent evaluators said would have been impressive even without the injury.

But even if Mettenberger and his supporters – including LSU offensive coordinator and longtime former NFL coach Cam Cameron – are being overly optimistic, then Mettenberger could still be worth a second- or third-round pick for a team that believes he has the potential to be a starter in 2015 and beyond.

ESPN analyst Ron Jaworski certainly feels that way. He tabbed the strong-armed, 6-foot-5, 224-pounder as the second-best QB prospect in this year’s entire class, behind only Central Florida’s Blake Bortles. Jaworski is one of many who has compared Mettenberger to the Baltimore Ravens’ Joe Flacco – including Cameron, who has coached both of them.

“I think his skill set translates extremely well to that league,” Cameron said. “Some guys want ‘em taller or [some want] more athletic. But the bottom line is a guy’s gotta be tough, football-smart, distribute the ball to everyone on the team under pressure, in tight windows. Zach can do that.

“You can win a world championship with Zach Mettenberger. That I know. And that becomes the final evaluation. You don’t draft a guy unless you think this guy can ultimately lead our organization to the Super Bowl. Not just win games. And he is on par with guys that I’ve known since his age that have won Super Bowls.”

LSU coach Les Miles echoed that confidence, describing Mettenberger as “a guy that can really play in a very high level in the NFL.”

Still, there are some question marks about Mettenberger that have nothing to do with his surgically-repaired left knee.

He only had one great year in a turbulent college career, which required a lot of maturing both on and off the field.

Mettenberger started out at Georgia, but was dismissed from the team after an arrest for two misdemeanor counts of sexual battery. After a year in junior college, he transferred to LSU. But he didn’t really shine as a backup his sophomore year or as a starter his junior year. He was sometimes criticized as too laid back, as both a leader and a decision-maker.

Last year, however, Mettenberger showed rapid development in Cameron’s first year on the job. He thrived in a pro-style offense (and throwing to pro-caliber receivers like Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry). He threw for 3,082 yards, 22 touchdowns and eight interceptions before suffering the injury in LSU’s regular-season finale.

“When he showed up here and really did not play a lot, he was kind of in the background. Not necessarily did we feel his presence,” Miles admitted. “When we turned to him and he became that player, he really stepped into a role of leadership.

“Really, we felt like he needed to take on more of a position of team leader than necessarily quarterback. He did that. He’s one of the toughest guys on our team. He continued to improve through his last snaps.”

Cameron hinted at a similar assessment, saying, “We’re all maturing, hey, to some degree. And he’s no different.”

“It’s been refreshing to me coming back to college and watching how much these guys can mature in six months, a year,” Cameron said. “And remember, Zach’s still a young guy. He’s not even two-thirds the way to where he’s gonna be at some point in time. And I think his game translates extremely well to the NFL.”

Mettenberger said his first two individual workouts with teams are scheduled for this week – the Jacksonville Jaguars on Thursday and the Detroit Lions on Saturday – with more to come after that.

Cameron said teams have picked his brain, but he said they don’t have too many pressing questions.

“The film speaks for itself,” Cameron said. “The one thing I know about scouts, they’re gonna look at the film first. Theyre gonna look at the game at Georgia or the game at Alabama. The games against quality opponents on the road. Zach obviously played extremely well.

“Some may ask, ‘Is there anything about him we wouldn’t know?’ And I tell them he’s one of the best, if not the best practice players I’ve been around. Just like [Landry and Beckham], because of the standard Les sets here.”

Mettenberger might not be ready to immediately lead his next team into the playoffs as a rookie like fellow big men Flacco and Ben Roethlisberger have done in recent years.

But if his growth in 2013 was a true indication of his potential, then he might well develop into one of the better investments in this year’s draft class.

Jeremy Hill is ready for NFL

February, 21, 2014
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BRADENTON, Fla. -- In our final installment of features on guys who prepared for the scouting combine at IMG Academy, we turn to LSU running back Jeremy Hill.

We'll see how he does in the workouts, but it’s clear this is one smart guy. Hill came out of college early and his reasoning for that decision is very solid.

[+] EnlargeJeremy Hill
Stacy Revere/Getty ImagesJeremy Hill is projected to be among one of the first running backs taken in May's draft.
"If I played any other position, I would have come back for another year," Hill said. "But with the running back position with the wear and tear and the shelf life, I thought it was best for me to come out now. I didn't have any serious injuries, so I thought it was best to come out now."

Hill’s right that the shelf life of running backs isn’t that long. He might as well get into the NFL as quick as he can. And it didn’t hurt that an advisory board projected him as a first- or second-round pick.

Hill could be the first running back taken, according to many draft gurus. He views himself as NFL ready after working with offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, a former NFL coach, at LSU.

"Coach Cameron put me in a great position and I’m proud of my production," Hill said. "He had an opportunity to work with Ray Rice and LaDainian Tomlinson. He always talked about those guys and was always comparing their every-day habits and the way they practiced to mine. And he was always telling me what I needed to do to get to their level."

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are pretty well set at running back with starter Doug Martin and backups Mike James and Bobby Rainey. But, if Hill is the best player on their board at any given time, anything is possible.

"The one surprising thing is he’s got great hands," IMG Academy director of football operations Chris Weinke said. "We see it every day out here. He’s big and strong and he’s quicker than I thought he would be at 235 pounds. He’s a load coming downhill. I think you could utilize him in a lot of different ways at the next level. I think he has the ability to run inside and outside and you can use him in the passing game. Whoever drafts him is going to get a good all-around running back who is ready to play right away."
Whether you like Joe Flacco or think he's a fluke (I'm looking right at you, Skip Bayless), you should read the profile on the Super Bowl MVP in ESPN The Magazine. Kevin Van Valkenburg delivers a good read on how Flacco and the Ravens have evolved on the field, but Flacco remains the same off of it. You really get the feel for how Flacco felt restrained in a "play it safe" offense for many years.

Flacco
The story appears in ESPN The Magazine's Sept. 2 NFL Preview, you can click right here to read the entire piece. Here are some selected quotes from Flacco in the article:

On not being an in-your-face type of a leader: "Look at Peyton [Manning]. He has guys on eggshells all the time. If they do the wrong thing, they're thinking, 'S---, he's going to kill me.' And that works for him. But at the same time, I think it's tough to play in that environment. Sure, if you're not consistently putting in the effort, that's when I'm going to call you out. But if you're putting in a full effort and you do something that costs us the game, what the f--- is yelling going to do? The game's over. Let's move on and get better."

On former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron: ""Our relationship was good, he was just a tough person to communicate with. When you don't feel like you can communicate at a great level, obviously there are going to be times when you see things differently."

On the philosophy of "playing it safe" on offense and letting the defense win games: "I don't think those guys would ever outwardly put it that way. But the overall sense of the program, there was a little bit of that. The defense felt like they had the kind of ability that they did in 2000, and that wasn't necessarily the truth. My point was: That's not going to give you the best odds of winning. You might be able to pull it off now and then, but I don't think they'd won more than one playoff game from the time they won the Super Bowl in 2000 to the time I got there. So we obviously needed to take another step."

And here's one from tight end Dennis Pitta on Flacco: "It takes a lot to get to know Joe. When you first meet him, you might think, Joe doesn't really like me, and he's kind of rude. But it's just because he's shy. He's not a very outgoing person."
Cam Cameron received a Super Bowl ring from the Baltimore Ravens on Tuesday, even though he was fired as their offensive coordinator with three games remaining in the regular season.

Cameron
Cameron
“Honestly, it meant a lot,” Cameron told The Baltimore Sun. “I’m very appreciative of the people in Baltimore and obviously the leadership of the Ravens for that gesture. It meant a tremendous amount. It meant a lot to my family.”

This is a classy move by the Ravens, particularly when you consider the firing of Cameron was one of the catalysts for the team's Super Bowl run. In 13 games with Cameron, the Ravens averaged 344.3 yards per game. In seven games under Jim Caldwell, Baltimore recorded 400.5 yards per game.

Would the Ravens have won the Super Bowl with Cameron as their offensive coordinator? Probably not. I don't see Cameron loosening the reins on Joe Flacco like Caldwell did in the second half of the AFC Championship Game in New England. I also don't believe Flacco is allowed to make that crucial audible on third-and-1 in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl with Cameron calling the plays.

I didn't write this post to bash Cameron. To his credit, he made the Ravens' offense much better than what it was under former coach Brian Billick. Cameron just never reached the valid expectations for an offense that has a young quarterback in his prime and one of the best running backs in the league.

In the end, the Ravens made the right move by firing Cameron and followed it up with the classy gesture of giving him a ring. Cameron, though, said he isn't going to keep it. He promised his stepfather that he would give his first Super Bowl ring to him.

Cameron posted a picture of his ring on Twitter, writing, "Thank you, Baltimore."

How gap between Titans, Ravens grew

January, 28, 2013
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The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens used to be bitter rivals, closely matched.

Then Tennessee collapsed in a playoff game after the 2000 season at what now is LP Field, losing 24-10 despite dominating the game in a lot of ways.

Since that fork in the road, the teams have gone in very different directions.

Writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean: “The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and they will play for a second championship on Sunday in New Orleans against the San Francisco 49ers. The Titans, meanwhile, haven’t won a playoff game in nine years and are coming off a 6-10 season.”

But that’s not the line of demarcation I’ll use.

The 2008 Titans were the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The sixth-seeded Ravens won in Miami to earn another playoff trip to Nashville. And Tennessee lost that divisional round game in a similar fashion to the game in 2000, even though the score was a lot closer, 13-10.

Since then:
  • The Titans are 29-35 (.453) with no playoff appearances.
  • The Ravens are 43-21 (.672) with a 6-3 playoff record.

That playoff meeting in Nashville was Joe Flacco’s second playoff game, and while he’s had his ups and downs, he’s now a Super Bowl quarterback.

Since then, the Titans have started Kerry Collins, Vince Young, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker and, in an emergency situations, Rusty Smith.

Instability at quarterback is only part of the reasons the teams have been so different.

John Harbaugh has developed into a steady coach while Jeff Fisher’s tenure fizzled out and Mike Munchak hasn’t established any solid footing after two seasons.

Led by one of the NFL’s top general managers, Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have continued good roster building.

The Titans actually have more starters and contributors out of their last four drafts, but it’s partly because of previous failures -- think Young, Adam "Pacman" Jones, Chris Henry, Paul Williams -- that so much opportunity is available.

Baltimore’s gotten far more production out of outside veterans it’s brought in: Center Matt Birk, receiver Anquan Boldin (via trade), fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, resurgent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, receiver/returner Jacoby Jones.

Compare that to Tennessee’s veteran additions: Receiver Nate Washington, linebacker Will Witherspoon, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, safety Jordan Babineaux, guard Steve Hutchinson, end Kamerion Wimbley, returner Darius Reynaud.

The Titans fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and didn’t see much change with Dowell Loggains promoted to replace Chris Palmer.

The Ravens fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and got a major boost from Jim Caldwell taking over for Cam Cameron.

It’s a copycat league, and the Ravens were already a model franchise in many ways.

The Titans are one of a long list of teams that need to look at how the Ravens work and borrow some ideas.

Quarterback is the key, but the gap between these two teams was a playoff field goal just four years ago. It’s a deep moat now.
Backup running back Bernard Pierce has been the biggest surprise of this year's Ravens draft class. Pierce has led the Ravens in rushing in two of Baltimore's three playoff games, averaging 6.3 yards per carry this postseason.

Pierce
The Ravens can thank Ricky Williams for having Pierce on the team this season. If Williams hadn't announced his retirement last Feb. 7, which caught Baltimore off guard, the Ravens probably wouldn't have drafted Pierce in the third round because there would've been no need for a No. 2 running back.

"He’s a tackle-breaker and he’s explosive," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said of Pierce. "He’s a good match to what Ray [Rice] is, and he was there for us to pick in the third round. And you know what? For him to sit there and be in the meetings with Wilbert (Montgomery, running backs coach) and Ray (Rice), and to be able to learn the importance of protection and all those other things, it’s just very beneficial.”

No one has benefited more from the change in offensive coordinators than Pierce. In his first 13 games this season, all under Cam Cameron, Pierce was on the field 17 percent of the time, according to ESPN Stats & Information. In Jim Caldwell's six games, Pierce has been on the field for almost one-third of Baltimore's snaps.

Pierce, who finished as the second-leading rusher in Temple's history, has taken advantage of the extra playing time. In his six games with Caldwell, Pierce has gained 401 yards rushing (66.8 per game). He totaled 300 yards rushing in the 13 games that Cameron called plays.

Pierce was the seventh running back taken in the 2012 draft. One of the backs selected before him was LaMichael James, a second-round pick who is playing for the 49ers in the Super Bowl.

"We’ve seen in this league now, you need two backs," Newsome said. "When we’re back [at the NFL scouting combine], Wilbert always takes the opportunity to go down on the field when the running backs are working, because he played the game. He came back and he said, ‘I’m impressed with this guy Pierce.’ He brings a different dimension."
John Harbaugh, Ed ReedEvan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsJohn Harbaugh's hearing players out has earned the respect of Ed Reed (20) and his fellow Ravens.


OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Ravens didn't look much like a Super Bowl team three months ago. If not for coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens wouldn't have been much of a team at all.

After getting routed by 30 points in Houston, the most lopsided loss of the Harbaugh era, the Ravens returned from their bye week only to be greeted with the last announcement they wanted to hear. Harbaugh informed everyone they would be practicing in full pads.

As grumbles filled the team meeting room, safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard spoke out against Harbaugh's decision. Most coaches, maybe even Harbaugh five years ago, would have told the players to sit down, be quiet and get prepared for a physical practice. Instead, Harbaugh wanted to have a discussion. The players talked about how he treated them, and Harbaugh listened.

What could have escalated into an ugly argument essentially became a town-hall meeting. And, by the way, the Ravens didn't practice in full pads that day.

Said center Matt Birk: "Every coach talks about players have ownership and it's your team. But when push comes to shove, is that really true? With Harbs, it is. Everybody walked out there feeling really good about our head coach."

That was the turning point of the Ravens' season, and it's the major reason the Ravens are playing the 49ers in the Super Bowl. Not Ray Rice's fourth down-and-29 conversion. Not the firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Not Ray Lewis' retirement announcement.

All of those moments affected the season, but none resonated more with the players on a personal level. Ravens players have always played hard for Harbaugh. This season, however, they truly bonded with him.

“One thing about our guys, we like our guys talking things out and confronting issues," Harbaugh said. "We’ve been doing that throughout the course of the season and it’s pushed us so close as a football team. I think you’re seeing the results of that right now."

It was so meaningful that Reed brought it up after the Ravens won the AFC Championship Game.

"He humbled himself to really listen to the players," Reed said. "It was just something we had to go through as men."

When Harbaugh was named the third coach in Ravens history, he didn't have to rebuild the roster. Baltimore was two years removed from being the AFC's second seed and had Pro Bowl players sprinkled throughout the lineup, including two future Hall of Fame players in Reed and Lewis.

The challenge for Harbaugh was rebuilding the team's image. Under coach Brian Billick, the old Ravens boasted about their swagger. Under Harbaugh, the new Ravens promote discipline. The old Ravens embraced being the bad boys. The new Ravens rally around their faith and recite Bible passages in post-game news conferences.

“For everything we’ve been through since coach Harbaugh got here,” Reed said, “he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build and to create this moment."

The foundation of Harbaugh's coaching philosophy can be summed up in what he said at his introductory news conference five years ago: "There are three important things in putting together a football team: No. 1 is the team, the second-most important thing is the team and the third-most important thing is the team."

Harbaugh, who had never been a head coach at any level, was ready to play hardball in his first season with a locker room filled with powerful personalities. Each player was allowed just one locker; in the past, the star players had two or three. Benches were removed from practices because no one was allowed to sit anymore. Shirts had to be tucked in and chinstraps had to be buckled even during walkthroughs.

For everything we've been through since Coach Harbaugh got here, he had a vision of working us a certain way and taking us through something to build and to create this moment.

-- Ravens safety Ed Reed, on coach John Harbaugh
Although players weren't thrilled with the stricter rules, no one could argue with the results. The franchise had been to the playoffs four times in its first 12 years of existence, and Harbaugh has guided the Ravens to the postseason in each of the past five seasons.

Harbaugh became the first head coach in NFL history to win a playoff game in his first five seasons and reach three conference championship games over that span. Since 2008, Harbaugh's first season as coach, only the Patriots have won more games than the Ravens. Not bad for the guy who was the Ravens' second choice after Jason Garrett and who was considered an outside-the-box candidate five years ago because he had never been an offensive or defensive coordinator.

"Coach brought a winning mentality here," running back Rice said. "He built a physical team, and him being a tough coach makes us a tough team. He's our head coach and if you believe in his vision and chase what he sees, it eventually becomes the whole team's vision."

Harbaugh now has an "open mic" where players can say anything they want. He seeks out player feedback whether they agree or disagree with him. If Harbaugh disagrees with the player, he'll explain why.

It's not about who's right or wrong. For Harbaugh, it's about what's right or wrong for the team. That was never more apparent than during that team meeting in October.

“I think he’s a special kind of coach,” Birk said. “When you want to play for a guy, I think you play a little harder. You do some of the extra things that it takes to be successful.”

Newsome: No one pressured Harbaugh

January, 25, 2013
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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Everyone can agree that firing offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with three weeks remaining in the regular season was a bold decision. But was it entirely coach John Harbaugh's decision?

Asked whether he or owner Steve Bisciotti pushed Harbaugh to fire Cameron, Newsome shook his head emphatically before saying no eight times.

"That would't be fair to John. John has to stand before his coaching staff and his players," Newsome said Friday. "If at any one point do they think that he is overly influenced by Steve or I, he loses his staff and his players. It has to be him."

According to Newsome, Harbaugh started talking about removing Cameron after the Ravens got off the bus from a 31-28 overtime loss at Washington. Newsome said he spoke to Harbaugh as they both drove home that night. "I think I might have to make a decision," Harbaugh told Newsome, and he listed the reasons why.

The next morning, Harbaugh approached Newsome with the news.

"When he walked into my office and told me that he was going to make that decision, he had a peace about himself," Newsome said.

Other topics Newsome addressed:
  • He said this season has played out like "that dream that little kids have along the way when they're growing up." The first player whom he drafted in Baltimore, offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, and the man who hired him as general manager, Art Modell, could both be selected for the Pro Football Hall of Fame a day before the Ravens play in the Super Bowl. If that wasn't enough, Newsome gets to watch his most celebrated draft pick, Ray Lewis, play his final down in that game. "I don't think you could have written that script," Newsome said.
  • Newsome, the first African-American general manager in the NFL, said he would like to see the number of minority hires in the league to be better and acknowledged that the diversity committee will work to get it better. There were eight head coaching jobs in the NFL this year, and none were filled by a minority candidate. "I can remember way back 18, 19 years ago and all we were asking of the commissioner and owners was just give us the chance to get in front of you. I think the opportunity is there," Newsome said. "I'd like for the other African-Americans to get an opportunity, but John Harbaugh is a good football coach and Jim Harbaugh is a good football coach and Rob Chudzinski is a good football coach. They're [the owners] not making bad decisions. It's a good pool of candidates out there that people have to choose from."
  • Before speaking to reporters, Newsome said he wouldn't talk about quarterback Joe Flacco's contract status until after the Super Bowl. But he was still asked about where talks stand with Flacco, who is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent in March. "Joe and I have a very good understanding about his contract and where we are," Newsome said. "End of story." In reality, Flacco isn't going anywhere. If the Ravens don't get a long-term deal done with him in February, they will put the franchise tag on him.

Cam Cameron told The New York Times that his firing in December by the Baltimore Ravens was "a brilliant move."

"Everyone on the team took a look in the mirror after that," Cameron said.

Cameron is right that his firing put the responsibility of the offense on the players. It put them on notice. They could no longer place the blame of an inconsistent offense on Cameron, who was the frequent scapegoat after losses.

And Cameron is right that it was a brilliant move. The Ravens made it to two AFC Championship Games under Cameron but failed to make the Super Bowl. The Ravens don't get to the Super Bowl this season with Cameron calling the plays.

The reason why the Ravens were able to beat the New England Patriots Sunday was loosening the reigns on quarterback Joe Flacco after halftime. New offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell spread out the defense with more three-receiver looks and went away from a plodding run game, putting the ball in Flacco's hands.

On the three touchdown drives, which all ended with Flacco passes in the red zone, the Ravens went no huddle and shotgun on 15 of the 24 plays. Flacco threw the ball 70 percent of the time on those series as the Ravens went from trailing 13-7 to going ahead 28-13.

I don't see Cameron signing off on that adjustment in the second half. He increasingly gave Flacco more freedom every year, but he didn't hand over the offense to Flacco like Caldwell did in New England.

I wrote in December that firing Cameron was the right call. I never said it was an easy one. Playoff teams aren't supposed to remove their play-caller with three weeks left in the regular season. But the Ravens made the bold move. And it was that aggressive mindset in New England that put the Ravens in the Super Bowl.
Ravens coach John Harbaugh wouldn't say specifically why he fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron last month, and Harbaugh won't say specifically what offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell is doing differently than Cameron.

But there is a difference in the Ravens offense, especially when you look at the production. In 13 games this season with Cameron, the Ravens averaged 344.3 yards per game. In five games under Caldwell, Baltimore is recording 416.2 yards per game. As a point of reference, the Ravens' average yards per game under Caldwell would rank second in the NFL this season, only behind the Patriots (427.9).

So, why are the Ravens putting up such big numbers with Caldwell?

"One thing that coach [Jim] has done for us is that he lets us go out there, and we have a game plan," running back Ray Rice said. "Regardless of the situation, we have been sticking with it. Joe [Flacco] can tell you that we go in there with a plan that we are capable of executing."

The Ravens set a franchise postseason record with 439 yards of total offense in the wild-card victory over the Colts. That record lasted six days, as the Ravens broke it with a 479-yard performance in the double-overtime win at Denver (Baltimore had 412 yards of total offense when regulation ended).

Caldwell said his success comes from taking input from all of the offensive coaches and getting the players to execute better than they did earlier in the season.

"It doesn’t all rest on one guy and one guy making a difference in the system," Caldwell said. "These guys are mature and fought and worked over the years to get where they are. I just see everybody getting a little bit better at what they do and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
In whatever story Andrew Luck writes as an Indianapolis Colts quarterback, Bruce Arians will always occupy a vital place in the initial chapter.

Barring a reunion later in their careers, that’s likely to be the extent of it.

Arians has reportedly been hired for the last of eight NFL head-coaching jobs that opened this offseason, and will take over the Arizona Cardinals.

For his work as the Colts interim coach for 12 games in 2012, Arians earned a special place in the hearts of the team’s fans. The franchise bottomed out at 2-14 in 2011 as Peyton Manning missed the season with a neck problem.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians and Andrew Luck
Joe Robbins/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck and the Colts went 9-3 with Bruce Arians, right, at the helm this season.
It jettisoned the guy who ran the team, Bill Polian, his head coach, Jim Caldwell, and Manning.

Owner Jim Irsay than hired Ryan Grigson and Chuck Pagano. Pagano hired his old friend, Arians, as his offensive coordinator and the organization drafted him an ultimate quarterback to groom in Luck.

When Pagano was diagnosed with leukemia and left the team for treatment, he tabbed Arians as his stand-in.

And Arians is expected to win coach-of-the-year honors, probably sharing them with Pagano.

The Colts went 11-5 this season, 9-3 under Arians, earning a playoff berth.

It was an incredible story, and one that got Arians in the pipeline for at least three of the open jobs despite the fact that most teams looked for a guy younger than him. He lost out in Chicago, where he was a finalist, and in San Diego. But now the 60-year-old Arians is an NFL head coach with a more challenging job because he's got to find a quarterback to develop.

The Colts will be thrilled for him, but sad to lose him.

And Pagano needs a new coordinator.

I’d hate to see the offense move far from the scheme it ran last year, as it was very effective, and as a vertical offense is a lot of fun to watch.

Can quarterbacks coach Clyde Christensen, who coordinated for Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay and for Caldwell in Indianapolis, take over and carry on? Or will Pagano be inclined to bring in someone new?

Among those available now who’ve done the job before are Cincinnati receivers coach Hue Jackson, former Browns coach Pat Shurmur, former Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, former Baltimore coordinator Cam Cameron and former Jaguars coach Mike Mularkey.

Former Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt might have been a great fit, but he was introduced as the new offensive coordinator in San Diego on Thursday.

Arians is a tough loss, for sure.

Pagano isn’t going to wave a white flag over it. He’ll always be grateful to Arians. But it doesn’t mean he hasn’t been formulating a contingency plan.
Mike McCoy's expected hiring by the San Diego Chargers leaves the Arizona Cardinals ... where?

There is no way to know the answer to that question.

First, we do not know for sure what the Cardinals' plans are for naming a head coach. Second, we do not know whether McCoy will become a better head coach than the person Arizona winds up hiring in the end.

We do know Cardinals president Michael Bidwill announced intentions to interview Andy Reid, only to have Reid accept the Kansas City Chiefs' offer without visiting Arizona. We know reports suggested the Cardinals sought a second interview with McCoy, only to have McCoy cancel that interview after accepting the Chargers' offer.

So, from outside appearances, the Cardinals appear to be struggling in their search for Ken Whisenhunt's replacement. They do have an insurance policy in defensive coordinator Ray Horton. Missing out on Reid and McCoy would hurt more if Horton also appeared likely to land a head coaching job elsewhere. Horton appears more likely to stay, however.

In my view, firing Whisenhunt made sense if the Cardinals were in position to move decisively for a superior candidate. They have not done that to this point. Still, it's tough to render a verdict on the process before the Cardinals have made a hire. And even when they do make a hire, we won't immediately know whether they've made a good one.

Before hiring Whisenhunt in 2007, the Cardinals reportedly conducted second interviews with a group featuring Mike Sherman, Norm Chow, Cam Cameron and Ron Rivera. Whisenhunt was also a candidate to coach the Pittsburgh Steelers at that time.

Horton, Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley and Cincinnati Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden have interviewed with the Cardinals this offseason. They appear to be the leading candidates.

No coach is going to succeed in Arizona without upgrading the quarterback situation. Whisenhunt proved he could win with a top quarterback. He lost his job because the quarterbacks he helped acquire and develop following Kurt Warner's retirement either could not stay healthy (Kevin Kolb) or struggled (John Skelton, Ryan Lindley) or both (Kolb, to varying degrees).

The other teams seeking head coaches generally have superior quarterback situations. That makes those teams more attractive to coaching candidates. If the Cardinals wind up settling for a lesser candidate, then they would have been better off keeping Whisenhunt, shuffling the offensive staff and making another run at finding the team's next quarterback.

Final Word: Ravens at Broncos

January, 11, 2013
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NFC Final Word: Packers-49ers | Seahawks-Falcons AFC: Ravens-Broncos | Texans-Pats

Five nuggets of knowledge about the Baltimore Ravens-Denver Broncos AFC divisional-round game, which will be played at 4:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Denver's Sports Authority Field:

Justify his glove: A quarterback wearing a glove is a fairly common occurrence. But when a quarterback the caliber of Peyton Manning starts to wear a glove, it’s noticeable. When it happens after Manning missed an entire season because of a neck injury that required four surgeries, it is going to be newsworthy. This week, Manning admitted he is wearing the glove as a result of his surgery. He wore the glove in the past two games -- both at home -- because he has had difficulty gripping the ball in the cold. Snow is a possibility Saturday, and temperatures may dip below 20 degrees at game time. Expect to see the glove make its third appearance. If the first two games are any indication, Denver shouldn’t be worried about the fit: Manning has thrown for 643 yards, six touchdowns and one interception while wearing the glove.

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsWearing a glove to combat the Denver chill hasn't slowed Peyton Manning his past two games.
Is Rice suddenly a fumbler? There is a curious trend developing for Baltimore running back Ray Rice. Once the postseason begins, the normally ball-secure Rice becomes vulnerable to fumbling. Rice has seven fumbles in 1,527 touches in his regular-season career. But after fumbling twice Sunday against the Colts, Rice has fumbled five times in 152 touches in the playoffs. Nothing can unravel an upset bid on the road in the playoffs like a key fumble. It will be something Rice and the entire Denver crowd will be thinking about Saturday.

Pees has playoff experience against Manning: Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees was an assistant coach in New England from 2004-09 and faced Manning in the postseason twice, winning once and losing once. This week on ESPN’s “NFL Live,” another former Bill Belichick defensive assistant, Eric Mangini, said Pees’ time planning for Manning with Belichick's playoff staffs could come in handy. Mangini said there were times when Belichick changed an entire defensive scheme against Manning at halftime to get an edge. Thus, Mangini said, Pees is adept at doing what it takes to try to stop Manning in the playoffs.

Will the Ravens be worn down? Denver will try to strike quickly and set the tone. Expect to see some fast-paced, no-huddle offense against what could be a fatigued Ravens defense. Baltimore had a short week after beating the Colts on Sunday -- after which the Ravens had to travel west into the thin air of Denver. The Colts ran 87 offensive plays and kept the ball for 37 minutes, 32 seconds Sunday. All of these factors could come into play Saturday.

Will Caldwell give different looks? When Denver beat the Ravens 34-17 in Baltimore in Week 15, it was the Ravens’ first game with Jim Caldwell as their offensive coordinator. Manning’s former head coach in Indianapolis was promoted from quarterbacks coach to offensive coordinator after the firing of Cam Cameron. Caldwell’s offense was anemic against Denver, which took a 31-3 lead into the fourth quarter. The unit has made some strides in the three games since, meaning that Denver should expect to see an improved Baltimore offense.
The Baltimore Ravens' firing of offensive coordinator Cam Cameron with three games remaining comes across as a panic move. Teams headed to the playoffs rarely make such major changes like this.

But make no mistake: This is the right move. Joe Flacco has been too inconsistent. Ray Rice isn't being used enough. The Ravens' offense has been sleepwalking, and an aggressive move like this one can provide a spark. This is a gutsy call by coach John Harbaugh. With Cameron directing the offense, the Ravens have been to the playoffs the past four seasons and lead the AFC North this year. But teams don't get to the Super Bowl by playing it safe or sticking with the status quo.

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
AP Photo/Nick WassOne of the criticisms of Cam Cameron -- not getting the ball enough to star RB Ray Rice.
“It’s not about fair or unfair, right or wrong,” Harbaugh said in a statement released by the team. “My responsibility is to the whole team and what’s best for them right now. We need a change. Our plan and our goals are to win games, win our division and get to the playoffs.”

This was far from a knee-jerk reaction for losing two straight games. It was two years in the making. There was talk of the Ravens dismissing Cameron a couple of years ago but they kept him because they didn’t want to change offensive systems during the NFL lockout when there were no offseason workouts.

The Ravens brought back Cameron before this season on a one-year deal. If Harbaugh already had decided (perhaps with a nudge from owner Steve Bisciotti) that Cameron wasn’t coming back next season, why wait until after the season? That makes no sense. If Jim Caldwell was going to be the offensive coordinator next season, he should be the guy calling the plays for the final three games and the playoffs.

The Ravens are too talented on offense to rank No. 18 in the league right now. The highest ranking under Cameron was only 13th in 2009.

"My charge -- our responsibility as a coaching staff -- is to maximize the opportunities for our team to win, and we can still reach all of our goals for this season," Harbaugh said. "With our coaches and players, the solution is in the building. We are going to make the most of our opportunities going forward, and this change gives us a better possibility to achieve our goals."

While it was the right move to part ways with Cameron, it remains to be seen whether Caldwell will do any better.

Caldwell has never been an offensive coordinator in his career. He has been an NFL head coach, a quarterbacks coach and a wide receivers coach.

What he has working for him is his relationship with Flacco. Cameron and Flacco never saw eye-to-eye, which may be the reason why Flacco looked like a top-five quarterback one week and a bottom-five one the next. Flacco told the Baltimore Sun recently that he was frustrated by the team going away from the no-huddle offense.

To his credit, Cameron has made the Ravens' offense much better than what it was under former coach Brian Billick. Cameron just never reached the valid expectations for an offense that has a young quarterback in his prime and one of the best running backs in the league.

There were signs that not all was well with the Ravens' offense leading up to this move. The only touchdown scored by the Ravens in Pittsburgh came on special teams. Baltimore escaped San Diego with a win on a spectacular effort play on fourth-and-29 by Rice. The Ravens didn’t give the ball to Rice in the fourth quarter against Pittsburgh two weeks ago, when they failed to hold the lead. And Sunday, Flacco threw for 55 yards in the second half.

The biggest criticism I had about Cameron was the lack of touches for Rice and the lack of adjustments after halftime.

This move will be well received by the players, who have taken to Caldwell in his first year with the team. But the players are on notice now. The firing of Cameron says he was the problem. But Cameron didn't pass protect. He didn't fumble or throw interceptions.

If the Ravens fail to improve as an offense, the players are going to be the next ones held accountable.

Ravens fire Cam Cameron

December, 10, 2012
12/10/12
11:43
AM ET

The Baltimore Ravens dismissed offensive coordinator Cam Cameron and replaced him with quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, a league source told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Cameron's dismissal comes after the Ravens' overtime loss to the Redskins on Sunday, their second straight defeat.

After scoring 21 points in the first half Sunday, their offense's first four drives of the second half ended with quarterback Joe Flacco's fumble, his interception deep in Washington's territory and two three-and-outs.

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