Billick, Ravens win with different approach

OWINGS MILLS -- Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick is arguing less, smiling more and enjoying getting back to his roots as an offensive-minded coach. Since firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel and installing himself as the play-caller, the Ravens are 2-0 and have scored 61 points.

It doesn't appear to be a coincidence as the offense has become more stubborn with sticking with the running game, instituted some spread formations, executed play-action with more guile and utilized a few designed roll-outs for quarterback Steve McNair.
Besides a few new wrinkles to the playbook, several players remarked this week that they have noticed Billick becoming more receptive to suggestions and input from them on the direction of the team. That's in contrast to a more aloof management style that endangered his job security during last season's 6-10 campaign prior to team owner Steve Bisciotti retaining Billick under the mandate that he alter his style and become more approachable.
"Last year was my first year, so I really didn't know coach Billick that well. I will say that this year he's a bit more loose," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "He laughs a lot more than last year."
That's largely because Billick appears to be having fun as a coach instead of feuding with the media or dwelling on past issues of locker room chemistry. This appears to be a more cohesive team.
"It's a fun group to be around," Billick said. "I'm enjoying myself as much as I have in a while."
Billick has been more conducive to ideas, and players are beginning to take him up on his offer of expressing their opinions about the playbook and the team's daily schedule. Their complaints about Fassel didn't go unheeded. Fassel was criticized for not listening to the players and getting to know them on a personal level.
"Generally speaking, he's a better person, just joking around with us and getting closer to the players on offense," running back Jamal Lewis said. "He's listening to us and really making it our offense instead of just his offense. He's doing a great job keeping us focused and keeping our motor going."
Now, the Ravens are averaging just over 30 points a game under Billick's two-game singular direction of the West Coast offense.
Although they still rank 25th in the league in total offense with 287.1 yards per contest, there does appear to be an upward trend underway.
And that's with Billick taking a hands-on approach in the offensive huddle at practice and going over every single play multiple times in meetings. Lewis said that Billick explains why the Ravens run a particular play instead of just telling them to run it.
"He's back to coaching again and playing less of an administrative role," center Mike Flynn said. "I think this has re-energized him a bit. A lot of the younger guys have never seen him coach. When he first came here, I saw him get into coaching. Now, he's gone back to it, and I think he's enjoying it.
"I think after last year, there needed to be some change and he wanted our opinion about it. Obviously, it's worked out well. He's definitely a changed coach."
TRAINING ROOM: Middle linebacker Ray Lewis missed his second consecutive practice with an injured back and remains questionable on the injury report. Lewis has predicted he'll start against Tennessee and practice, at the latest, by today. Billick remarked Thursday that Lewis' condition, which includes back spasms after colliding with safety Ed Reed on Sunday, is getting better.
Meanwhile, Reed (neck), who's listed as questionable along with tight end Todd Heap, returned to practice. He missed portions of team drills as did Heap.
The Titans added offensive guard Benji Olson (back) as questionable.
QUICK HITS: Titans coach Jeff Fisher has been linked in multiple published reports to the potential vacancy with the Dallas Cowboys amid rampant speculation that Bill Parcells will step down after a tumultuous season with controversial wideout Terrell Owens. Fisher downplayed whether that's a distraction. "I have been coaching in this league for a long, long time and they are not distractions," he said. "Our ability to deal with distractions determines success in this league. We've been through an awful lot of them and I don't see that as a distraction. I am under contract, I love living here in Nashville, and I want to finish what we've started here." … Fisher took umbrage at a suggestion that Tennessee, which finished 4-12 last season and has weathered numerous discipline problems on and off the field, is not a stable franchise. "Have you followed this franchise?" Fisher said. "Have you followed the cap difficulties that we've had over the last couple of years? Typically speaking, when you have a handful of changes because of the cap rule and you have to let go starters and core players, then I'd say, yes, you are in a rebuilding phase. Our record is not reflective of where we want to be, but the franchise is very stable." …. The return of McNair under center to Nashville, Tenn., with the Ravens represents the first time since 1973 that the Oilers/Titans franchise has played at home against one of its former starting quarterbacks. The last one to make such an appearance was Charley Johnson, who started 10 games in 1971, and then returned two years later with the Denver Broncos.
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland.

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