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**Disclaimer**: This discussion took place prior to the signings of Owen Daniels, Justin Forsett, and resigning of Terrence Cody. More on those topics in future articles.
1. Coach John Harbaugh voiced during the NFL’s owners meetings last week his opinion to change a rule in the CBA. He would like to abolish the rule that says coaches can’t work with players during the offseason, until the league mandated voluntary workouts begin on April 21st. (April 7th for teams with a new head coach). Players can come to the castle and workout. Coaches can be there as well. But they can’t work together until the 21st. Harbaugh said, “Young guys want a chance to compete in the National Football League for a job. They want to go see their position coach. They want to learn football. It’s their craft. And we’re saying, ‘No, you can’t do it?’ Why? Because of the collective bargaining agreement that makes no sense?” Agree, or disagree, and why?
Matt Jergensen: I understand Harbaugh’s point to a degree. For young players it’s crucial that they be allowed to learn and grow in the hopes of having a fruitful career in the professional ranks. Meeting with coaches is a part of this as well as being allowed to work in the team facility. You also have to see how coaches may take advantage of these rules too. How much time do veteran players really need? They are maintaining condition year round and could use the off time to heal, be with family and rejuvenate themselves for the coming season. There is common ground here and if they meet in the middle you can come up with a plan that makes sense while not overtaxing your players.
Mike Randall: I think Harbs makes a good point. But at the same time it should still be considered voluntary to come and work during the off-seasons. Some players have wives and kids to take care of. Others are going back to school to work on degrees, preparing for life after football. One freak injury and you need a back-up plan. Especially for the young players who haven’t gotten a lucrative deal in their career. It shouldn’t be frowned upon if Matt Furstenburg shows up to the castle to work out and wants to sit down with his coaches and figure out what is expected of him. What he can work on to put him in a better position to make the team in September. That’s what it’s all about. There is no reason why Joe Flacco can’t sit down with Gary Kubiak and go over the intricacies of the new offense if he wants to. But on an absolutely voluntary basis. The fact that the players and coaches can only say “hello” and nothing more when they bump into each other at the water cooler is a little extreme.
Dan Bryden: I understand Harbaugh’s frustration with a seemingly arbitrary cut-off date for meeting with coaches. Unfortunately, this rule was collectively bargained meaning the players had a voice in changing this. Harbaugh doesn’t have a say in this bargain so he is forced to live with the current rules. The way I see it, Harbaugh has two choices: a) create a back-channel to allow players and coaches to meet (illegally) or b) use the extra period as off-time where he can vacation and/or plan for the upcoming season.
2. One of the more intriguing rulings to come from the owners meetings was to try out extending the extra point in preseason, in order to better make a ruling on it next season. They will move the extra point line of scrimmage to the 20 yard line, making it a 38 yard attempt. What are your thoughts on the potential change?
MJ: I don’t like it. It’s supposed to be an easy kick and now they’ve made it harder. Why? Are the games not competitive? Is there a lag in play? Is there a safety issue? The only reason I’ve heard is that it’s automatic. Even still botched snaps can occur so you still have to execute to get that one point. With the institution of the two point conversion to added some strategy to the equation. I do wonder if teams would look at going for two more if the extra point is moved back. What’s the risk-reward there?
MR: Here’s the problem. It doesn’t happen often, but we see it a few times a year where a team lines up for the extra point, but run a fake and score two. The Ravens did this in the season opener against the Steelers in 2011. The coaches tell the holder, if you see the defense in such and such alignment, fake the PAT. Holder, Sam Koch grabbed the snap and ran it in off the left side for an easy two. Moving the line of scrimmage back to the 20 or 25 takes that option away. The league success rate for FGs from 30-39 yards in 2013 was about 90%. 20 years ago it was 83.5%. 40 years ago it was 64.7%. So it won’t be long until 38 yards is the new “automatic”. Let defenses overload a side of the line to make it easier to block these kicks. Let defensive players use each other to get leverage to try to block a kick. Make the extra point a drop kick so it’s a little tougher to execute. I’ve advocated that the college and NFL rules should mirror each other, at least the hash mark position. Like college, move the hash marks outside of the alignment with the goal post, and place the hold for the PAT on the hash mark on the side of the field that was scored upon. Some kicks will be at a tougher angle. Plenty of ways to make it more challenging without lazily just moving it back, affecting other potential outcomes.
DB: This is a terrible idea. I’m generally a proponent of adding more “football-like” plays and minimizing kicks. The number of 2-point tries may increase, but this rule would make matters worse in my opinion. Kicking will cause an even greater impact on the game due to the increased level of difficulty. It’s so frustrating to see an exciting game come down to the last play where one wiry player (who would never play a snap of defense or offense) decides the outcome. If I were to change the extra-point system, I’d use the NFL Blitz rule where the extra point is automatic. An indirect plus would be an increased use of the term ‘boomerang’ once ‘pick-six’ no longer makes sense.
3. How high on the list of priorities is the running back position for you now? Even if Ray Rice doesn’t face jail time for his role in the domestic incident with his wife, Janay, the league could still hand down a suspension. Bernard Pierce is going to be slowed this offseason as he recovers from rotator cuff surgery. He should be ready when training camp starts. Both Rice and Pierce are to become free agents in 2016, but Rice would be a candidate to be released if his situation gets worse, or if he plays in 2014 but doesn’t perform well.
MJ: The Ravens should draft a Runner and maybe as high as the third or fourth round. Plenty of quality options could be available. Even though this is a passing league teams still need to be able to run the football come playoff time. The AFC North and it’s cold weather also means that as the season gets longer being able to ground and pound is still an important part of the game.
MR: The Ravens did a great job of filling in some holes throughout free agency adding Smith, Zuttah, and retaining Monroe, Daryl Smith…they’ll have a lot of freedom with their draft picks and not necessarily need to address one position each time they pick. We saw how detrimental not being able to run the ball was to the offense last year. It’s starting to look like unless you have the next Adrian Peterson, RBs are not worth big contracts when they hit free agency. The Ravens could have to swallow the fact the Rice deal isn’t going to pay off as they hoped. Bernard Pierce is not the next AP. I’d be ok with drafting a RB as high as round two. Let him get some touches each game as a rookie, much like Rice behind Willis McGahee in his rookie year. New offense, why not let Kubiak draft a guy he thinks would be a great fit for his scheme? A guy that could be role player for a year, compete for starting at RB in 2015, and ready to be the feature back in 2016 when Rice and Pierce could be walking.
DB: I think Rice’s situation would need to take a much darker turn for the Ravens to cut him. Rice is certainly not worth his current cap figure but losing cap-space to release him would hurt even further. I think that running back is a bigger need than most lead-on. Pierce can be a decent zone-rushing back but he’ll need far more experience before he can make an big impact. Pierce simply doesn’t have the one-cut explosiveness and he lacks the simple reading skills to take full advantage of a zone-based attack. Fortunately for the Ravens, the Kubiak/Shanahan system is famous for taking low-paid backs and turning them into solid ZBS runners. This is the main reason I have yet to argue with the Ravens mocks that continually choose Terrance West in the 4th round.
4. Last week marked 30 years ago that the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis. Tell us something that resonates with you the most about anything Baltimore Colts related.
MJ: Watching fathers and grandfathers in tears over the move. It still sticks with me today. As for myself I grew up without a home team to cheer for from middle school until I graduated from college. I still feel like something was taken from me. It’s probably also why I appreciate having the Ravens so much. Time marches on and it heals all wounds but we should never forget our history.
MR: I was born shortly after the Colts were moved out of Baltimore, so I never got to see the greats play. All I have is my dad and granddad’s stories. There we’re so many greats, but my dad spoke most passionately about Artie Donovan. Right, wrong or indifferent, my family was one of those that had a small TV in the kitchen and my dad watched the 6:00 news at dinner time. Growing up, I remember Artie Donovan would chat football with WJZ’s sports anchor, John Buren, every Friday for a few minutes. Even as a kid Donovan would make me and my dad laugh hysterically at some of the things he would talk about, stories he could tell for days. My answer to that age old question, if you could have dinner with one person, who would it be? I’d pick Art Donovan. Except instead of dinner, it’d be to sit at the bar with. He always seemed like a genuine, real person. I could listen to him tell war stories like the ones he shared on WJZ, or you’ve seen on his days on Carson or Letterman forever. It would never get old, and he’d keep you smiling and laughing the whole time. Donovan was truly one of a kind. They don’t make athletes like him anymore.
DB: I will never be able to feel the way Colts fans felt in 1984. If my team left later this evening, it would certainly take a big toll on me. I respect the football fans of the area for holding a grudge against the Colts and never siding with the Washington team. Baltimoreans absolutely deserved to have their team back in 1996 but I can’t help but feel for the down-trodden Browns fans at that time. No one ever wants to see a loyal fan-base lose their team but it seems as though the writing is on the wall for Buffalo.