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Offense in Ravens camp flying high

By Carlos "Big C" Holmes
Cox News Service

Ravens Offense Flying High

Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick is best known for masterminding deadly passing attacks. However, his reputation for being an offensive wizard has been tainted in recent years due to a Ravens offense that has struggled to put points on the board.

All of that is expected to change with the Ravens offense this season and what I witnessed in training camp gives me no reason to believe otherwise. Billick now has the missing pieces to the puzzle and this offense could be on the verge of something special. Don't get me wrong, they won't be the offensive juggernaut Billick engineered while in Minnesota, but they are going to surprise a lot of folks.

It's all about the offense...

Like instant grits, just add water, the Ravens added instant offense to the team when they acquired longtime Titans QB Steve McNair to run the show. McNair brings a lot to the table, but showed more than anything that he can still sling the rock.

It didn't take long during 7-on-7 drills for McNair to throw a deep strike to WR Derrick Mason. To no one's surprise, the duo hooked up quite frequently, rekindling an acquaintance from their days in Tennessee. McNair was very sharp, poised and made good decisions throwing the ball. He spread the ball around pretty good to all his receivers.

McNair may not possess the arm strength he once had, throwing a few quackers (click-click pull!) on his deep passes, but still throws with enough velocity to fit the ball in some pretty tight spots. He demonstrated that when he ripped one off into the chest of TE Todd Heap who had two defenders draped all over him like a cheap K-mart suit.

No doubt, McNair is still the man.

Backup QB Kyle Boller got into the act during 7-on-7 drills, completing 4 out of 4 passes and ran the second-team offense rather efficiently. He showed flashes of brilliance and made minimal mistakes throwing the ball. Too bad this guy doesn't play in games like he does in practice because he would still have a starting job. It appears that the Boller experience is not dead, just put on hold. He performed nicely.

I'm open over here...

Derrick Mason is probably one of the most underrated receivers in the league, but this may be the year when people will have to give the gifted receiver his props. The table is set for the 10-year vet to have a big year. He's reunited with McNair, playing in Billick's vertical passing game and a running game that opponents will have to respect. What more could you ask for?

Mason had a strong showing in camp. He was quick off the line, fast and sure-handed. His route running was precise and he made great adjustments to the ball while in the air. Mason is a very versatile receiver. I watched him split wide and blow by the defender to get open, and then move inside to the slot position, showing his willingness to go over the middle to make the tough catch. He plays much bigger than his 5-foot-10, 192-pound frame.

Here's my advice to any defense trying to put the clamps on this dude. You better double up or hold on tight because if he gets by you, he's gone. Mason possesses bank-robber speed.

Second-year man WR Mark Clayton appears to be evolving into a nice complement receiver to Mason. Clayton caught everything in sight and was very elusive running after the catch. He had an outstanding showing and gave Pro-Bowl CB Chris McAlister problems at times. Clayton looks to have a promising future.

Rookie WR Demetrius Williams opened some eyes with his performance and was a real crowd-pleaser. He made a couple of circus grabs that had spectators oooh-ing and ahhh-ing. One receiver the team is counting on to step up his game is Devard Darling. He also made a number of acrobatic catches.

As far as the tight ends go, Heap was Heap and I didn't see much else. Look for the team to use Heap in a lot of different formations this year, including lining him up at wideout. This will prevent some match-up problems for teams. Heap was a hot item in the red zone. Every pass was thrown his way.

Ground Chuck...

With running backs Jamal Lewis, Musa Smith and Mike Anderson at their disposal, there's no question that the club has some Grade A prime beef in its backfield. Although Lewis didn't suit up during my stay, I did get a chance to watch him go through some drills. I will say this, for a big, bruising back he has some very quick and nimble feet. Talking to Anderson, who came over from the Broncos during the off season, he was very clear on what he brings and his role is on this team.

"For me it's to come in here and contribute," Anderson said. "They know what I can do on the field and with the collection of the guys they have on this team, I just add to that mixture and take another step forward. I'm here to fit in wherever I can fit in, wherever I can help out. I've always been that way my whole career. This game is about the team. You need guys to be unselfish and willing to give it up and do whatever is asked of them. I know that we are all professional athletes and we all get paid to do this, but at the same time guys have to understand you've got to have that kind of approach and do whatever it takes because then at the end everybody's happy, everybody's getting what they want. So, that's why I'm here and that's what I'm going to do." Anderson will provide this team with even more leadership on offense.

Final thought...

It was evident by the amount of big plays I watched during Ravens camp that the team's offense has developed a playground philosophy, and that is, go long.