Tag Archive | "juan castillo"

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Ravens officially announce subtle changes to coaching staff

Posted on 14 February 2017 by Luke Jones

After a few weeks of silence, the Ravens officially confirmed the remaining subtle changes to their coaching staff on Tuesday morning.

Head coach John Harbaugh has not hired a new quarterbacks coach, meaning offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg will continue to serve in that capacity. There had been discussion about adding a quarterbacks coach to more closely work with Joe Flacco, but Mornhinweg will continue to handle those duties with offensive assistant Craig Ver Steeg also helping out.

Chris Hewitt has been promoted to secondary coach and will take over for Leslie Frazier, who departed last month to become the new defensive coordinator in Buffalo. Now in his sixth season with Baltimore, Hewitt was in charge of the secondary in 2015 and served as Frazier’s assistant last season.

Mike Macdonald will work under Hewitt with the title of defensive backs coach. He served as a defensive assistant the last two seasons.

Drew Wilkins was also promoted from defensive assistant to become the assistant defensive line coach. He will work with Joe Cullen, who enters his second year as Baltimore’s defensive line coach.

Juney Barnett has also been named the strength and conditioning coach after serving as an assistant the past five years. He replaces Bob Rogucki, who had been with the Ravens since 2008.

The Ravens had already made two significant coaching hires last month with Greg Roman coming on as a senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach and Joe D’Alessandris becoming the new offensive line coach. Juan Castillo left last month to become Buffalo’s offensive line coach and run-game coordinator.

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Ravens hire D’Alessandris to coach offensive line

Posted on 19 January 2017 by Luke Jones

The Ravens have taken another step toward completing their coaching staff for the 2017 season.

On Thursday morning, head coach John Harbaugh announced the hiring of Joe D’Alessandris to coach the offensive line. He replaces Juan Castillo, who departed after four seasons last week to become Buffalo’s offensive line coach and run-game coordinator.

D’Alessandris is entering his 40th season in coaching and ninth in the NFL. This will mark the 38th season in which he has helped guide an offensive line.

“We had a number of very good, qualified candidates for this position, and we have the right fit with Joe,” said Harbaugh, who hired senior offensive assistant Greg Roman earlier this month to revamp the league’s 28th-ranked rushing attack. “He’s a hard-nosed, experienced coach, who is an excellent teacher. He’ll be able to work with our veterans to get the best out of them, and he’ll take our young linemen to higher levels.”

D’Alessandris last worked as the offensive line coach of the San Diego Chargers under former head coach Mike McCoy from 2013-2015. After spending the first 30 years of his career coaching at various colleges with two brief stints in the Canadian Football League, he was brought to the NFL by Chan Gailey, who initially hired D’Alessandris as his offensive line coach at Georgia Tech in 2002.

After spending two years as Kansas City’s assistant offensive line coach (2008-2009), D’Alessandris then served as Buffalo’s offensive line coach from 2010-2012.

In his first season with San Diego, the Chargers allowed the NFL’s fourth-fewest sacks and produced more than 100 rushing yards in 12 of 16 regular-season games. He was one of six coaches fired by McCoy at the end of the 2015 season.

“I feel very privileged and honored to come work with such a tremendous organization,” D’Alessandris said. “I very much look forward to the great opportunity of working for John Harbaugh and [general manager] Ozzie Newsome on an incredible staff.”

The Ravens have yet to officially fill their quarterbacks coach and secondary coach positions, but either of those jobs could still be addressed internally.

Below is a look at D’Alessandris’ coaching timeline:

Years College/Pro Team Position
1977-78 Western Carolina Graduate Assistant
1979-82 Livingston University Offensive Line
1983 Livingston University Offensive Coordinator & Offensive Line
1984-85 Memphis Offensive Line
1986-87 Tennessee-Chattanooga Offensive Coordinator & Offensive Line
1988-89 Tennessee-Chattanooga Offensive Line
1990 Ottawa (Canadian Football League) Offensive Line
1991-92 Birmingham (World League) Offensive Line
1993 Samford Offensive Line & Asst. Head Coach
1994 Texas A&M Offensive Line
1995 Memphis (Canadian Football League) Offensive Line
1996 University of Pittsburgh Offensive Line
1997-01 Duke Offensive Line
2002-07 Georgia Tech Offensive Line
2008-09 Kansas City Chiefs Assistant Offensive Line
2010-12 Buffalo Bills Offensive Line
2013-15 San Diego Chargers Offensive Line
2017 Baltimore Ravens Offensive Line

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Buffalo hires two assistants away from Ravens

Posted on 13 January 2017 by Luke Jones

On the same day senior offensive assistant and tight ends coach Greg Roman was hired to help revamp the running game, the Ravens said goodbye to two assistants from their coaching staff.

Offensive line coach Juan Castillo is leaving Baltimore after four seasons to become the offensive line coach and run-game coordinator for the Buffalo Bills, who hired Carolina defensive coordinator Sean McDermott to be their new head coach earlier this week. McDermott is also hiring Ravens secondary coach Leslie Frazier to be his defensive coordinator.

Both Castillo and Frazier worked with McDermott in Philadelphia as part of Andy Reid’s staff. Ironically, it was Castillo who replaced McDermott as the Eagles defensive coordinator in 2011.

Despite a public endorsement from head coach John Harbaugh last week, Castillo’s influence moving forward appeared uncertain with the hiring of Roman, who specializes in the running game and uses man, gap, and zone concepts. Castillo is known for coaching more zone blocking and had struggled to establish a productive running game in three of his four seasons in charge of the Baltimore offensive line.

The Ravens finished 26th or worse in rushing yards in 2013, 2015, and 2016 and only saw dramatic improvement in the ground game when Gary Kubiak served as the offensive coordinator in 2014.

Frazier joined Harbaugh’s staff in 2016 and revamped a secondary that had dealt with chronic communication issues in past seasons. The Ravens finished ninth in the NFL in pass defense, and that included their dramatic struggles without top cornerback Jimmy Smith over the final four games of the season.

It remains unclear how the Ravens will proceed as they must now fill their quarterbacks coach, offensive line coach, and secondary coach positions. It was announced on Thursday that former tight ends coach Richard Angulo would become the assistant offensive line coach, but Harbaugh will likely need to make an outside hire to fill Castillo’s job.

Defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt was previously in charge of the secondary before Frazier was hired after the 2015 season, making it possible that he could assume more responsibility for 2017.

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Ravens reportedly let go two assistants from coaching staff

Posted on 05 January 2017 by Luke Jones

After head coach John Harbaugh announced earlier this week that his three coordinators would return for the 2017 season, the Ravens have reportedly let go of two assistant coaches.

According to ESPN’s Adam Caplan, assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington and director of strength and conditioning Bob Rogucki will not return next season. The Ravens had made no formal announcement as of Thursday evening, but Harbaugh said Tuesday that staff changes would be coming despite the returns of offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, defensive coordinator Dean Pees, and special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

“Guys have opportunities. Guys have goals and ambitions and stuff like that,” Harbaugh said. “If you go through the ranks of different guys, everybody is in a different place. There’s always going to be change on your staff. We’re going to look to try to bring in some infusion of ideas, talent, and coaching ability that can make us better.”

Washington became the Ravens’ assistant offensive line coach in 2011 when Andy Moeller was in charge of the group and worked under current offensive line coach Juan Castillo for the last four seasons. A former NFL offensive lineman, the 40-year-old Washington became the 13th man in NFL history to win a Super Bowl as a player and as a coach when Baltimore won Super Bowl XLVII. In 2013, Washington turned down an offer to become the offensive line coach at the University of Southern California.

The Ravens offensive line endured injuries and inconsistency through much of the 2016 season, which isn’t the first time that Castillo’s work has come under fire. However, Harbaugh endorsed Castillo when asked if the group was on the right track going into 2017.

“We have a very good offensive line coach,” Harbaugh said. “If you watch him coach — which you guys do — I think it would be hard to watch him coach those guys and not think he does a very good job. But the other part of that is that we have to run the ball better, and we have to keep Joe [Flacco] cleaner. Every offensive line in the league feels like they want to keep their quarterback clean. I want to be great up front, and that is what we are shooting for.”

Rogucki, 63, had been part of the coaching staff since 2008 and spent time with Harbaugh in Philadelphia prior to that. The Ravens revamped their offseason training program in 2016 after hiring director of performance and recovery Steve Saunders.

A record number of players were placed on injured reserve during the 2015 season, prompting the organization to reevaluate its training methods.

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2015 Ravens training camp preview: Offensive line

Posted on 27 July 2015 by Luke Jones

With the Ravens beginning their 20th training camp in franchise history this month, expectations are high for John Harbaugh’s team as they eye their seventh trip to the postseason in eight years.

As veterans report to Owings Mills on Wednesday and the first full-squad workout takes place the following on July 30, we’ll examine each position group entering the summer.

July 20: Quarterbacks
July 21: Defensive line
July 22: Running backs
July 23: Linebackers
July 24: Wide receivers
July 25: Tight ends
July 26: Cornerbacks
July 27: Offensive line
July 28: Safeties
July 29: Specialists

Below is a look at the Baltimore offensive line:

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN 
LOCK: Marshal Yanda, Kelechi Osemele, Rick Wagner, Eugene Monroe, Jeremy Zuttah, John Urschel
BUBBLE: Robert Myers, James Hurst, Jah Reid, Ryan Jensen
LONG SHOT: Marcel Jones, Nick Easton, Leon Brown, Kaleb Johnson, Darryl Baldwin, Blaine Clausell, De’Ondre Wesley

Synopsis: It was only a year ago that concerns were abundant about an offensive line that battled injuries and played poorly during the 2013 season, but much has changed since then. Regarded by most as the best position group on the roster, the offensive line returns returns its top seven players as the Ravens plan to maintain the same zone schemes with new offensive coordinator Marc Trestman that they used so effectively last year under Gary Kubiak. The strength of this group begins with its guards as Marshal Yanda is the best in the NFL and Kelechi Osemele is rapidly rising to a Pro Bowl level. The question for this group early in training camp will be health as center Jeremy Zuttah and right tackle Rick Wagner both missed spring workouts and will be brought along slowly to begin the preseason.

One to watch: Wagner was arguably the Ravens’ biggest question mark entering last season before the 2013 fifth-round pick put together an above-average season at right tackle, solidifying a scrutinized offensive line that ultimately excelled in the running game. All signs point to Wagner being ready to go in plenty of time for the start of the season, but offensive line coach Juan Castillo will carefully watch his footwork coming back from last December’s season-ending Lisfranc injury. Assuming he’s healthy, Wagner and Yanda could form the best right side of an offensive line in the entire NFL this season. 

One on notice: Signed to a five-year, $37.5 million contract last year, Eugene Monroe appeared to be Baltimore’s left tackle for the long haul, but a knee injury cost him five games and his play suffered when he was on the field in 2014. To be clear, there is no left tackle controversy as James Hurst isn’t ready to seriously challenge Monroe, but the Ravens need to see better from the veteran to justify an $8.7 million cap figure next year. If the former Jacksonville Jaguar doesn’t bounce back from a rough 2014 campaign, the Ravens could be back in a position where they’re looking for a left tackle sooner rather than later.

Sleeper: There doesn’t figure to be much room for a sleeper to make his mark this summer with Hurst, John Urschel, and fifth-round rookie Robert Myers projected to lock up roster spots as reserves, but Kaleb Johnson of Rutgers was a priority rookie free agent and has the foot quickness that Castillo desires with his blocking schemes. Projected to play guard at 6-foot-4 and 300 pounds, Johnson will be someone to keep an eye on as the Ravens know they are unlikely to be able to re-sign both Yanda and Osemele and are looking for developmental depth at the guard position.

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Five questions entering 2014 Ravens training camp

Posted on 21 July 2014 by Luke Jones

John Harbaugh enters new territory this summer in trying to guide the Ravens to a bounce-back season after missing the playoffs for the first time in his tenure a year ago.

The seventh-year head coach is coming off his most difficult offseason in not only revamping his offensive coaching staff but dealing with the arrests of five different players, painting the organization in a more negative and embarrassing light than it’s faced in quite some time. Of course, the Ravens are hopeful they’ve made the necessary changes to rebound from an 8-8 season and return to the postseason playing in what appears to be a wide-open AFC North.

As rookies, quarterbacks, and select veterans coming off injuries officially take the practice field in Owings Mills on Tuesday, here are five questions — of many others, quite frankly — to ponder:

1. Will different automatically translate to better for the Ravens offense? If so, how much better?

The easy answer is the 29th-ranked offense in 2013 couldn’t be much worse, so it’s no profound statement to say the unit will be improved under new offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak, who will bring a stronger emphasis on running the football. The real question is how much better the Ravens will be after averaging a league-worst and franchise-worst 3.1 yards per carry.

Kubiak has an excellent reputation dating back to his days with Mike Shanahan in Denver, but quarterback Joe Flacco’s adjustment to a West Coast offense centered around timing, excellent footwork, and shorter throws — not regarded as his biggest strengths — will be interesting to watch after he showed encouraging improvements as spring workouts progressed. Of course, the Ravens hope the free-agent signings of wide receiver Steve Smith and tight end Owen Daniels in addition to a fully-recovered Dennis Pitta will provide the quarterback with consistent weapons he sorely lacked beyond wideout Torrey Smith last season.

Steve Smith was the standout acquisition of the offseason and has been praised for the leadership and swagger he’s already brought to the offense, but he has plenty to prove as a 35-year-old receiver whose yards per catch average has dropped in three straight years. Daniels figures to be a clear upgrade as the No. 2 tight end behind Pitta, but he played in only five games last season and must prove he can still gain separation entering his ninth NFL season.

The ultimate factor in determining how high the offense can climb will be the improvement of the offensive line with new center Jeremy Zuttah and the return of left guard Kelechi Osemele from season-ending back surgery. Zuttah will be an improvement over Gino Gradkowski with his physical style of play and will be a leader by example in the trenches, but you wonder if there will be some growing pains in making line calls with the veteran having spent more time at guard during his career. Osemele was impressive during spring workouts, but the Ravens need to see his surgically-repaired back hold up during the daily rigors of camp and the third-year lineman had to alter his workout practices as a result of the procedure.

And, of course, the Ravens still aren’t sure who will line up at right tackle, with Rick Wagner the favorite entering camp.

The offense will look quite different, but will there be enough improvement for the Ravens to climb back among the AFC’s elite?

2. How does maligned offensive line coach Juan Castillo fit with the Kubiak system?

After all the hand-wringing over Castillo and calls for him to be dismissed after the offensive line’s woeful 2013 campaign, the hiring of Kubiak all but eliminated that chatter. However, his seat will heat up again very quickly if his unit doesn’t produce immediately in 2014.

Players have dismissed any notion of growing pains last season, but it was clear the coexistence of Castillo and former offensive line coach Andy Moeller wasn’t a good fit. The bigger question this year will be how effectively Castillo implements Kubiak’s brand of stretch outside zone blocking that has produced a plethora of 1,000-yard running backs over the years.

Castillo demands a lot from his his unit before, during, and after practices, which made him a favorite in Philadelphia for so many years, but Harbaugh will have a difficult time sticking with his longtime colleague if the offensive line gets off to another slow start in 2014.

3. How many younger players are ready to make the jump to become standouts?

It’s no secret that the Ravens have undergone quite a transformation since winning Super Bowl XLVII, but a major key in rebounding from last year’s 8-8 finish will be the emergence of younger impact players, something there wasn’t enough of in 2013.

Torrey Smith and cornerback Jimmy Smith took sizable leaps last season, but others such as Osemele, safety Matt Elam, linebacker Courtney Upshaw, running back Bernard Pierce, and defensive tackle Brandon Williams must become more dynamic players if the Ravens are going to bounce back in a significant way.

Entering 2014, how many great players — not good or solid ones — do the Ravens currently have? Linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata might still be considered great around the league but are on the wrong side of 30 and not as dominant as they were a few years ago.

Yes, the Ravens will lean on the likes of veterans Steve Smith, Daniels, and Zuttah to upgrade their respective positions, but substantial improvement in 2014 will only come if the draft classes of 2012 and 2013 are ready to make a larger impact than they did a year ago. And if the likes of linebacker C.J. Mosley and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan can bring immediate impact as rookies, Baltimore will be that much more dangerous.

Simply put, the core of this roster needs younger and more dynamic talent to emerge.

4. What can we expect out of Ray Rice?

Even putting aside the ongoing saga of when NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will finally make a ruling on a suspension for the embattled running back, it’s difficult to project what kind of player Rice will be entering his seventh season and coming off the worst year of his career.

The 27-year-old was noticeably leaner and faster during spring practices, but it’s difficult to measure elusiveness — or any ability to break tackles — when players aren’t participating in full-contact drills. Much like we ponder about the entire offense, it’s not difficult to envision Rice being better at a lighter weight and with a better offensive line in front of him, but it’s fair to ask if his days as a game-changing back are over.

It will also be fascinating to see if Kubiak views Rice as an every-down back or is more eager to continue to hand opportunities to the likes of Pierce, veteran newcomer Justin Forsett, or rookie Lorenzo Taliaferro even after the sixth-year back returns from his anticipated suspension. Rice split time with Forsett working with the starters this spring — Pierce was still limited returning from offseason shoulder surgery — but it’s difficult to gauge how much of that was Forsett’s experience in Kubiak’s system as well as the Ravens preparing for the suspension.

5. Is the commitment to winning strong enough top to bottom on the roster?

You never like to make generalizations about what’s currently a 90-man roster when referencing five specific players being arrested during the offseason, but it’s fair to question the overall commitment when your players make up more than 25 percent of the NFL’s total number of reported arrests since last season.

Most already expected Harbaugh to have a tougher training camp following the first non-playoff season of his tenure in Baltimore, but the poor off-field behavior lends even more credence to the head coach working his players harder than in past summers.

Make no mistake, there are countless individuals on the roster who are fully dedicated to winning, but a chain is only as strong as its weakest link and the Ravens will be under the microscope in not only how they conduct themselves off the field but how they perform on it this season. The poor choices of several individuals unfortunately drew that scrutiny for the entire roster as critics question the organization’s leadership and overall character.

“We have good, really good guys,” Harbaugh said on the final day of mandatory minicamp last month. “Football matters to them. The more it matters to you, the less inclined you are to do anything to jeopardize that.”

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Building offense around Flacco only offseason priority that matters

Posted on 09 January 2014 by Luke Jones

The uncertain future of linebacker Terrell Suggs and the decision to retain assistant Juan Castillo were topics that understandably garnered the most attention at the Ravens’ season-ending press conference on Wednesday.

But it was something owner Steve Bisciotti said that laid out the top priority of the offseason as Baltimore tries to bounce back from missing the postseason for the first time in the John Harbaugh era. In fact, it’s the only objective that really matters if the Ravens hope to climb to the heights they reached 11 months ago anytime soon.

Bisciotti has always acknowledged his opinions on football-related matters shouldn’t — and usually don’t — hold as much weight as those of general manager Ozzie Newsome and Harbaugh, but that hasn’t stopped the 53-year-old owner from publicly calling for more accountability from his employees in the past as former head coach Brian Billick and former offensive coordinator Cam Cameron learned years ago. That’s what made his answer over how concerned he was about the underwhelming play of quarterback Joe Flacco so telling as it spelled out what the Ravens must do this winter.

There was no over-the-top comment about needing more of a return on the $120.6 million contract he forked over to the 28-year-old quarterback last winter, even though the Ravens will certainly expect a much better Flacco in 2014. Yes, Flacco must improve, but so must Newsome, Harbaugh, Castillo, offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell (if he does indeed return), Ray Rice, the offensive line, and everyone else with a stake in the Baltimore offense next season and beyond.

“When you look at these guys who have been coaching in the league and have had success in the past and you look at our players that have had success in the past, if we could have fixed it, we would have,” Bisciotti said. “I certainly expected more in the second half of the season. As interrelated as the running game is to the play-action pass and the execution of the offensive line, trying to divide up the blame is something I’m really not much more qualified than you guys are to do. But, when you have a short window of failure that comes out of the blue, the key is not to make wholesale changes.

“I know that Ray Rice was limited this year, and Bernard Pierce was limited. And, if they had been better, then maybe the offensive line would have performed better. Obviously, if the offensive line were blowing open holes, then maybe [Rice and Pierce] could have achieved more with their physical limitations. And, if that had worked a little better, then I think Joe would have performed a little better. All the things, the numbers that are so striking to me to find yourself in the bottom five in offense in almost every category is again something that — had we not had a [good] history in the last five years – then I would probably demand wholesale changes. But I think you have to be careful to not to look in a vacuum and decide you have to throw out the baby with the bathwater, and [you] let people get healthy, let these guys work together for another year, add some people to the team in the draft and free agency.

“I think it’s safe to say that we’re going to look at the offense with the same fine-tooth comb that we looked at the defense last year. I think you’re going to see a lot of changes in personnel and how we approach that. I’m pretty proud of the defense for being able to retool on the fly, and I’ve got the same amount of confidence with these guys in building the offense.”

The final few sentences of his drawn-out answer said everything you need to know. Yes, the Ravens must address Suggs’ $12.4 million cap number, find a free safety, and tinker with various parts of their defense and special teams, but building a better supporting cast around Flacco is paramount. Last offseason saw Newsome focus solely on revamping a below-average defense while allowing the offense to suffer as a result, a perplexing strategy considering the Ravens had just won a Super Bowl with their offense doing the heavy lifting.

Fixing the offense won’t be easy as the dynamic pass-catcher the Ravens covet doesn’t just grow on trees and the organization doesn’t exactly have a stellar history of developing — or even finding — many quality wide receivers in their 18-year history. Adding bulk on the interior line is a necessity, but potentially finding three quality starters — if the Ravens are unable to re-sign Eugene Monroe to remain with incumbents Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele — will be a daunting task. Flacco’s $14.8 million cap figure in 2014 will indeed be an obstacle — just like the large numbers currently held by Suggs, Haloti Ngata, Lardarius Webb, Rice, and Yanda — as Newsome tries to use limited resources to infuse the offensive side of the ball with more talent.

But the Ravens must build a better supporting cast around their quarterback, whether you think Flacco is a potential Rolls-Royce or only a Mustang in the hierarchy of current NFL quarterbacks. He’s proven he has the ability to take the franchise all the way to the top, but he can’t do it alone as last season so painfully showed. A record-setting contract understandably brought high expectations, but it didn’t suddenly change his ability or who he is as a quarterback.

Making some difficult decisions such as parting ways with Suggs and sacrificing some ability defensively may be necessary to create sufficient cap space in order to add more dynamic offensive pieces. The Ravens have no choice but to take giant leaps forward offensively in the increasingly offensive-minded NFL.

Flacco did not have a good year in 2013, and he must own his share of the blame just like anyone else involved. But the Ravens didn’t set him up to have a strong season following an offseason trade of Anquan Boldin and the retirement of veteran center Matt Birk without adequate replacements behind them. That coupled with unforeseen injuries to the likes of Dennis Pitta, Rice, and Osemele left too much to overcome.

From the Suggs financial decision to improving the offensive line and running game, nearly all offseason moves will be tied to the theme of doing what’s best for Flacco so the Ravens can get the most out of their steep investment.

It’s fair to expect much more from the quarterback, but only if the front office, coaching staff, and supporting cast hold up their end of the bargain as well.

Even after handing Flacco the richest deal in franchise history last year, Bisciotti could recognize that simple truth on Wednesday.

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I called it last week — and Harbaugh confirmed it yesterday

Posted on 09 January 2014 by Drew Forrester

A nice gesture by John Harbaugh in January of 2013 turned into a whopper of a train wreck for the Head Coach.

He took steps in an effort to fix it yesterday at the annual “State of the Ravens” press conference at the team’s facility in Owings Mills.

What did Harbaugh do?

He gave Juan Castillo the title he should have given him last January when the Ravens hired him to oversee their offensive line.

Last week as Luke and I reviewed the 2013 Ravens season, one of the topics centered on coaches and who we thought might return and who was on the bubble.

This was before Wilbert Montgomery was “moved on” for, essentially, insubordination.

As Luke and I went over the names, we eventually came to Castillo.  I contended then that Harbaugh’s biggest mistake was giving Juan Castillo the title of “Run Game Coordinator”.  I can see why Harbaugh did it that way, but hindsight tells us the title was a mistake.

To give Castillo a “new” title (the Ravens didn’t have a “Run Game Coordinator” before Castillo showed up) implied he was coming in to do something so specifically different that no one else on staff could manage it.  The only problem, of course, is the Ravens already had someone overseeing their run game.  His name was Wilbert Montgomery.  And, since a major component of running the ball is blocking for the ball carrier, they also had one of “those guys” in charge of coaching the offensive line — Andy Moeller.

Honestly, as I said last week, Harbaugh’s mistake wasn’t in hiring Castillo.  He’s a bright guy with a terrific resume.  John’s mistake was in giving Castillo the title of “Run Game Coordinator”.  When the running game fizzled in 2013, everyone simply pointed to the new guy who came in to coordinate the running game and said, “There’s the problem!”

Look, I understand John Harbaugh and Steve Bisciotti and everyone else at Owings Mills couldn’t care less about what the “armchair quarterbacks” (aka, the fans) think about their style, scheme and methods of coaching.  Frankly, the fans don’t know anything about football, truth be told.  They know when a player does something well and they know when Matt Elam gets beat by A.J. Green that Elam was to blame, but the fans don’t know anything, really, about the true inner workings of all eleven players on either side of the ball and how Player A’s mistake and Player B’s inability to cover up for it leaves Player C exposed.

That said, Harbaugh and Bisciotti do owe it to the fans to review the performance of their coaches and players and determine who deserves to carry on with the team and who doesn’t.

What “the fans” think about Juan Castillo shouldn’t have anything to do with whether the Ravens keep him or not, but it’s clear from yesterday’s press conference that Harbaugh IS aware of the scrutiny and criticism his “Run Game Coordinator” endured during the recently completed 8-8 season.

That’s why Castillo is now the team’s “Offensive Line Coach”.  It’s basically what he was all along, even with Moeller in the fold, but the Head Coach didn’t want to create a potential firestorm by stripping Moeller of his title.

And, for anyone who thinks Castillo was the guy who wrecked the running game, let me tell you this:  He didn’t coach the running backs.  Wilbert Montgomery did.  As someone in the organization said to me yesterday, “Wilbert’s job was to make the running backs better.  Whether or not he did that is up to you (the media) guys to decide and report on in whatever fashion you want.”

Oddly enough, the Ravens also brought in a smart football mind in 2013 to help with their defense.  His name was Steve Spagnuolo. The former Rams Head Coach joined the club as their “Senior Defensive Assistant”.  The Ravens defense, as we saw time and time again, couldn’t get off the field on 3rd down.  They had a tendency to give up the big play in the 4th quarter as the Ravens tried to steal a win or two in Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Chicago and Cincinnati.  Even though the defense outperformed the offense in 2013, the team’s defense was certainly a liability on a somewhat regular basis.  Why, then, was Spagnuolo not the same sort of lightning rod as Castillo?  One reason:  Title.

Castillo’s title suggested he was going to “fix” the running game.

Spagnuolo’s title suggested he was there to watch game film with Harbaugh and play racquetball with the coaches and front office members on Tuesday afternoons.

In theory — and based on his day to day duties — Castillo was brought on board to work with the offensive line.  We all know, of course, that was quite a mountain to climb for anyone…based on the personnel.

It would have helped the running game, for sure, if the offensive line that Castillo coached would have been better.  And, perhaps, the running game would have been better if Castillo and Andy Moeller coached their players better.

The running game might have also performed better if the running backs were in shape when training camp started — and capable of taking the punishment of an NFL season.

Here’s the one bullet point from yesterday that was reinforced to me by a staffer: The biggest loss the team incurred – player wise –  was Matt Birk.  And, as the staffer emphasized, “It wasn’t even close.  Our most significant loss was Birk.  We’re a playoff team if he’s the center.”

Moving forward, now, Juan Castillo is the team’s Offensive Line Coach.

There’s no word what that means for Andy Moeller.

And the team currently doesn’t have a “Running Backs Coach” after the departure of Montgomery.

One thing, for sure…regardless of title, the microscope remains focused on Juan Castillo.

For better or worse, he’s the new scapegoat in town moving forward.

And Baltimore, perhaps like no other city in the country, loves themselves a good old fashioned scapegoat.

Have fun, Juan.

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Castillo to remain with Ravens as offensive line coach

Posted on 08 January 2014 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens are still in the early stages of formulating their offseason plans, but their most-maligned assistant coach will return for the 2014 season with a new job title.

Head coach John Harbaugh announced Wednesday that run-game coordinator Juan Castillo will remain with the Ravens as the offensive line coach. However, other staff changes could still be on the way as offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell’s future remains up in the air as he completes his third NFL head-coaching interview this week.

“Juan will be the offensive line coach next year,” Harbaugh said at the Ravens’ season-ending press conference. “The rest of it’s a little bit in flux right now. As all this NFL coaching drama goes on, some of our guys are involved in that. We’ll just have to see how it shakes out. But we’re going to build a great coaching staff again [next] year.”

The decision to retain Castillo is surprising after the Ravens finished last in the NFL in yards per carry (3.1) and 30th in rushing yards per game (83.0). Both were franchise-worst single-season marks as running back Ray Rice gained only 660 yards in the worst campaign of his six-year career.

Castillo’s return also indicates that the Ravens feel their biggest blocking issues were with personnel as their starting offensive line at the end of the 2013 season featured just two starters from the Super Bowl XLVII team. At this point, Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda and guard-tackle Kelechi Osemele are the only safe bets to be starters next year with tackles Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher both free agents — re-signing Monroe is a top offseason priority — and center Gino Gradkowski figuring to have serious competition for the starting job.

Though the Ravens have publicly downplayed the changes Castillo made this past season, the alterations to the zone blocking schemes as well as a second-year center replacing retired 15-year veteran Matt Birk proved to be a combustible combination for the offensive line.

Harbaugh confirmed Wednesday that Castillo really served as the team’s head offensive line coach in 2013 despite being given the innovative title when he joined the Ravens’ staff in January 2012. The change in Castillo’s job description may not bode well for incumbent offensive line coach Andy Moeller, who was essentially demoted after being in charge of the offensive line in 2011 and 2012. Assistant offensive line coach Todd Washington also remains on the staff after recently turning down an offer to become the offensive line coach at the University of Southern California.

The Ravens parted ways with running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery last week after a six-year relationship, leading many to wonder if Castillo would be the next to depart. Castillo served as the offensive line coach of the Philadelphia Eagles for 13 years — spending two additional years as their defensive coordinator before being fired in 2012 — and worked with Harbaugh for a decade under Andy Reid.

Though acknowledging everyone on his staff must coach better in 2014, Harbaugh shouldered the blame for giving the unique title to Castillo and leaving him open to even more criticism with the running game struggling so mightily.

“I can understand why Juan is a lightning rod right now because the way we set up the structure and then we go into the season and we have our worst-ever year running the ball and he’s got that title,” Harbaugh said. “That’s on me. When we hired Juan, the idea was to add another great coach into our mix. Juan functioned as the lead offensive line coach last year. That was his job. The title was a way to have three great offensive line coaches in our mix right there. Andy had a big contribution last year. It was a little bit different than he had the year before.

“We had three guys working together and I thought it was going to be a really good mix. I thought those guys did a really good job of coaching together. We didn’t get the result that we wanted to get, but Juan was the offensive line coach and that’s his title going forward.”

The Ravens will now wait on the fate of Caldwell in terms of his prospects of once again become a heading coach. However, no firm commitment has been made that the offensive coordinator will return next year as Baltimore tries to improve an offense that finished 29th in yards and 25th in points scored in 2013.

Caldwell has interviewed with Detroit, Washington, and Tennessee, but the former Indianapolis Colts head man hasn’t been publicly regarded as the favorite — at least to this point — to land any of those head-coaching vacancies.

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Harbaugh expects competition, changes along offensive line

Posted on 31 December 2013 by Luke Jones

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Ravens coach John Harbaugh wasted no time in spelling out the biggest reasons why he thought his team fell short of the postseason for the first time in his six-year tenure in Baltimore.

The biggest downfall started up front with the offensive line, a unit that was so instrumental to the team’s Super Bowl XLVII run but one that also underwent several changes this season.

“We’re going to need to run the ball better, we’re going to need to protect Joe [Flacco] better,” Harbaugh said. “Offensively, those things will make us better.”

Finishing the season with three new starters from the line that protected Flacco so effectively in last year’s postseason, the Ravens averaged a league-worst 3.1 yards per carry and rushed for 1,328 yards, two marks that shattered previous single-season lows in franchise history. Baltimore also allowed 48 sacks, the second-highest total in team history and the most given up since the 1999 Ravens were sacked 56 times.

Media and fans have pointed fingers most often at run-game coordinator Juan Castillo, who implemented a new zone-blocking scheme in his first year with the Ravens that didn’t fit an offensive line featuring a new center responsible for making calls at the line of scrimmage. Harbaugh said Tuesday that no changes to the coaching staff were in the works for now, but the coach alluded to the possibility of staff members potentially moving on to take other jobs as the Ravens’ brass will meet next week to make further evaluations within the organization.

Even if Castillo isn’t retained, Harbaugh was quick to point out that the former Philadelphia offensive line coach has a strong track record and was just one of many responsible for the shortcomings of the Ravens’ failures in the trenches.

“Being in those meetings every single day and being a part of that thing every single day, I know better, and every one of our players knows better, and every one of our coaches knows that there are a lot of things that go into that,” Harbaugh said. “I’ve got complete confidence and belief in all of our coaches. I believe in our coaches. That goes for Juan Castillo; it goes for all of our guys. I think he’s a great coach, but I think all of our guys are great coaches. But, we’ve got to coach better. We’ve got to find a way to use our personnel better. We’ve got to get better.”

The Ravens are all but guaranteed to feature a new-look offensive line in 2014 with starting tackles Eugene Monroe and Michael Oher both unrestricted free agents. Harbaugh complimented Monroe’s play and expressed hope that he would re-sign with Baltimore after he was acquired from Jacksonville for fourth- and fifth-round picks in early October, but the Ravens will not have a great amount of cap space and can’t overspend for an above-average tackle who has yet to make a Pro Bowl in his five-year career.

Meanwhile, Oher is expected to depart via free agency after a disappointing season at right tackle and failing to pan out as the left tackle of the future when he was selected in the first round of the 2009 draft. The Ravens will evaluate 2013 fifth-round pick Rick Wagner for the right tackle spot and likely turn to the draft in early May to add more offensive line help.

Beyond the obvious holes at both tackle positions, Harbaugh made it clear that only Pro Bowl right guard Marshal Yanda — coming off an underwhelming season by his high standards — is a sure bet to line up at the same position next year. The Ravens are encouraged with the progress made by second-year lineman Kelechi Osemele from his November back surgery to repair a herniated disc, but where he’ll fit in the 2014 puzzle remains to be seen. Osemele played right tackle during the regular season of his rookie year before being shifted to left guard for the 2012 playoffs and started 2013 at that spot before landing on injured reserve.

His versatility will provide general manager Ozzie Newsome with more options when trying to address two open tackle positions at the start of the offseason.

“I think there will be a competitive situation pretty much at every spot on the offensive line except right guard,” Harbaugh said. “We will be looking forward to getting [Osemele] back. Whether he plays left guard or right tackle, we will have to make a determination on that. He can play either one of those spots. I would assume that he will be in that lineup somewhere, because he’s that kind of a player, but he’s got to come back and do it.”

Adding new bodies to the mix at tackle will be a top priority, but the competition at center might be more intriguing as 2012 fourth-round pick Gino Gradkowski struggled in his first season as a starter. Replacing 15-year pro Matt Birk, Gradkowski struggled to make the right protection calls for most of the season but improved as the year went on, according to Harbaugh.

Reserve lineman A.Q. Shipley competed for the starting center job in training camp before ultimately being needed to replace Osemele at left guard and rookie Ryan Jensen is considered an intriguing prospect with a 6-foot-4, 318-pound frame that would figure to physically hold up better than the smaller Gradkowski. However, the Ravens could elect to search free agency and the draft for more competition and a better option at center.

Gradkowski received the worst cumulative grade of any center in the NFL, according to Pro Football Focus.

“Early in the season, Gino would probably be the first to tell you that we had a lot of problems,” Harbaugh said. “You go from Matt Birk that does everything, that makes every call, and in some ways tells every lineman what to do in the heat of battle because he is so good — because you’ve got an offensive line coach basically in there playing center for you — to a guy that is doing it for the first time. That was part of the reason that we didn’t have a hat on a hat a lot of times early on, and that was a tough transition for us.

“And yet, Gino fights through it, and by the end of the year, he is making all those calls and doing a good job with that. [He is] a really smart guy, huge student of the game.”

A variety of other issues must be addressed on both sides of the ball as the Ravens try to regroup after their commendable run of five consecutive playoff appearances comes to an end, but the 2013 struggles of Flacco, Ray Rice, and the passing game were all impacted by the inconsistency along the offensive line.

It’s just one area that needs to be fixed, but it’s a critical one in which the Ravens must explore every avenue in hopes of improving by the time training camp rolls around in late July. Decisions in terms of coaching and personnel must be made carefully in arguably the most important offseason of the Harbaugh era.

And losing the battle up front was one major flaw the Ravens simply couldn’t overcome in 2013.

“Everything is going to be on the table that way [to improve],” Harbaugh said. “Every one of our guys, all of us understand in this league that it is a production business — coaches and players. We all have to be accountable for producing and winning.”

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