The most frustrating aspect of offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak’s departure was a fear that the Ravens would be forced to fix something that wasn’t broken.
After a 2014 season in which Baltimore set franchise records in points scored and total yards, head coach John Harbaugh knew he wouldn’t have to start from scratch like he did a year ago in his search for a new offensive coordinator and system, but the Ravens needed someone to keep the offense moving in the same direction. Former Chicago Bears head coach Marc Trestman has been entrusted with the job, and the 59-year-old made it clear Wednesday that he doesn’t intend to bring sweeping changes to Kubiak’s version of the West Coast offense.
“My idea would be, ‘Why would I have 40-some guys learn a new offense when I’m just one person?’” Trestman said. “Isn’t it easier for me to learn it than to start over with everybody else including coaches? I think the formula going in is certainly to learn the language and the nuances of the offense and what has been established there with the coaching staff and with the players, and then move forward from there.”
This isn’t the first time in Trestman’s career that he’s followed in the footsteps of a successful offense as he replaced Mike Shanahan and Gary Kubiak as defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco’s offensive coordinator and quarterback in 1995, making him familiar with their version of the West Coast offense. Perhaps the biggest question had been how a new coordinator would impact the zone-blocking schemes the Ravens finally appeared to master under Kubiak last season and whether that style would continue.
Harbaugh made it clear he was looking for a coordinator to fit the vision that will remain for the Ravens’ running game even as Kubiak, quarterbacks coach Rick Dennison and tight ends coach Brian Pariani join the Broncos.
“I thought that Gary and Rick and Brian along with [offensive line coach Juan Castillo] really took that to another level as far as the nuance, the scheme,” Harbaugh said. “Because that’s something they’ve been doing all those years in Houston and in Denver, and they’re probably the four most guys around the stretch-zone. We’ve learned from that, and that’s a part of us now going forward, and we’ll keep it.”
With two decades of NFL coaching experience, Trestman has a good reputation working with quarterbacks, but many have pointed to his pass-happy tendencies as a potential conflict with the Ravens’ offensive identity. The Bears ranked 30th in the NFL in rushing attempts (355) while Baltimore rushed 448 times to finish 11th in 2014. Chicago ranked 19th in the NFL in yards per carry (4.1).
After being asked about using the shotgun formation in Chicago, Trestman reminded everyone that he’s worked in a variety of fashions, pointing out that he rarely ever used the shotgun in his years with Rich Gannon in Oakland. It’s all about adaptation for the new offensive coordinator while adding some wrinkles along the way.
Harbaugh made it clear that the new-found commitment to the running game established last season will not change, and he feels comfortable with his new coordinator buying into the same philosophy.
“It’s never going to be my offense. It’s always going to be the Ravens’ offense,” Trestman said. “John has a vision of playing continuity football and complementary football, and I think that’s what has allowed the Ravens to be so successful. They’re not just an offense, defense and special teams, but they play complementary football. That’s something that I’ve paid attention to and will certainly have in mind each and every day as we work within the framework of the offense.”
Of course, saying the right things in a January conference call is a far cry from executing a successful offense on Sundays in the fall. More critical to the Ravens’ fate than Trestman will be what general manager Ozzie Newsome does to address the running back, wide receiver, and tight end positions that all feature key free agents this offseason.
The NFL is more about talent than it is coaching with few secrets among the 32 teams in how the game is played. Trestman has an exceptional foundation with a 30-year-old quarterback — who shares a similarly calm demeanor — and a strong offensive line on which to build, but the other skill positions are filled with question marks as the statuses of Justin Forsett, Torrey Smith, Owen Daniels, and even Dennis Pitta remain unclear for 2015.
As was the case when Kubiak agreed to become the offensive coordinator a year ago, the Ravens have much work ahead to keep the league’s 12th-ranked offense from a year ago moving in the right direction.
“I think Ozzie and John, the way they handle the personnel, it’s really in their hands,” Trestman said. “Certainly, I’ll be the one to be flexible enough that when we bring in good players that we’ll develop them and get them ready to play. Don’t go in there with any pre-existing ideas of who’s there, who’s not there, what we need to do. There’s a tremendous personnel department here. I’m sure we’ll talk about different types of players, but ultimately it’s our job to coach the guys that Ozzie and John and our personnel department bring in.”