Ravens hire Cameron

OWINGS MILLS -- Cam Cameron emerged as the Baltimore Ravens' new offensive coordinator Wednesday, and the first hire of new coach John Harbaugh has been given the pivotal task of revitalizing a dormant attack. Cameron's addition is perhaps the most critical one Harbaugh was faced with as the Ravens' offense has been ranked among the worst in the NFL for the past decade.

In league circles, Cameron is known for emphasizing the running game and developing quarterbacks.

Although Cameron was fired by the Miami Dolphins three weeks ago after they finished 1-15 in his lone season as head coach, the 46-year-old has a strong reputation for constructing explosive offenses based on his five years as the San Diego Chargers' offensive coordinator.

"I think the good systems maximize the players that they have and continue to develop the guys that they have to work with," Cameron said in a conference call with reporters. "The system does have a good feel for developing quarterbacks. The system knows how to utilize backs, tight ends, receivers.

"The core of the system is the offensive line. To compare probably wouldn't be fair, but I know I'm excited about the starting point that we have."

Under Cameron, the Chargers led the NFL in scoring with 492 points in 2006 as they finished in the top 10 in offense between 2004 and 2006.

With Cameron calling the plays, Pro Bowl selections like running back LaDainian Tomlinson, quarterbacks Drew Brees and Philip Rivers and tight end Antonio Gates thrived as the Chargers scored over 400 points for three consecutive years as they averaged 28.6 points.

Meanwhile, the Ravens finished 22nd in total offense last season and have finished in the bottom half of the league for eight of the past nine years.

There are some parallels between the Ravens and the Chargers when Cameron was in San Diego, including the presence of a running back centerpiece (Willis McGahee), a Pro Bowl tight end (Todd Heap) and a quarterback situation in flux.

Cameron was fired Jan. 3 by new Miami executives Bill Parcells and Jeff Ireland after a season where the Dolphins' lone victory came at the expense of the Ravens. Cameron managed that feat in overtime with journeyman quarterback Cleo Lemon under center.

Overall, though, it was a disastrous campaign as the Dolphins finished near the bottom of the league in yards and points.

"In life, we all get stung on occasion," Cameron said. "If you're in the NFL long enough as a coach or a player, you're going to get stung. The sting has gone away."

Cameron was hired after meeting for a few hours with Harbaugh and having lunch at the team's training complex before embarking on a cross-country drive to San Diego to pick up his family. No contract terms were immediately available, but Cameron is reportedly owed $10 million over the next three years.

Philadelphia Eagles quarterbacks coach Pat Shurmur was the only other candidate considered. Cameron has long-standing connections to Harbaugh, who worked under him as a secondary and special-teams coach in 1997 when Cameron was the University of Indiana head coach.

Cameron was a graduate assistant at the University of Michigan when Jim Harbaugh, Harbaugh's younger brother who's now the Stanford coach, was an All-American quarterback.

"We're excited to get Cam, because he's a fine coach and a good person," Harbaugh said in a statement. "Like me, he's a coach's son who lives and eats football. Because of that, we share many of the same philosophies about the game.

"We're going to be tough, we're going to be excited, we're going to be disciplined and we're really going to play hard. If we do those things on offense and we take care of one another, good things will happen. Getting Cam makes this a very good day for the Ravens."

Cameron emphasized that he was enthused about the package of Harbaugh, general manager Ozzie Newsome and the entire organization.

"In my view, it was just a matter of time before he became a head coach in the NFL," Cameron said of Harbaugh. "He's extremely bright, one of the hardest working coaches that I've been around. He's a great game-day coach and a great teacher.

"He's all you look for in a football coach. I know the players are going to enjoy playing for him and the assistant coaches are going to enjoy working for him. He brings a team concept that I'm excited about being a part of."

The Ravens had several offensive coordinators during the nine-year tenure of former coach Brian Billick, who was fired Dec. 31. However, the team only finished in the top half of the NFL in total offense once under him.

Billick called the plays for the majority of the past two seasons after firing offensive coordinator Jim Fassel, who followed Matt Cavanaugh.

Cameron was noncommittal on personnel, especially quarterbacks Steve McNair, Kyle Boller and Troy Smith, as he said he needs time to evaluate the roster.

However, he hinted that he wasn't convinced that McNair should be written off after an injury-plagued campaign last season.

"I know there were a lot of those predictions going around the last couple of years in Green Bay and we all saw what happened," Cameron said. And the low-key Terre Haute, Ind., native made no guarantees about immediately generating lots of touchdowns and yardage.

"I don't make a lot of promises," said Cameron, who lettered twice for Indiana at quarterback and briefly played basketball for legendary Hoosiers coach Bob Knight. "We've got a plan. I know we're going to work hard, and we've got a system of offense that we like. I'm not in the habit of making a whole lot of promises offensively. We'll let our play speak for itself."

One aspect of the Ravens' game that Cameron is certain to address is turnovers as Baltimore finished last in the league in turnover ratio.

"Ball security is critical," Cameron said. "Some years you do a better job of others, but it's one of those things that we know is a key determining factor to whether you win or not. Your ability to take care of the football is going to be critical."

Cameron began his coaching career at the University of Michigan working under the late Bo Schembechler, coaching wide receivers such as Desmond Howard, Derrick Alexander and quarterbacks like Elvis Grbac, Todd Collins.

As the Washington Redskins' quarterbacks coach for three years, Cameron coached Gus Frerotte to his only Pro Bowl selection.

Cameron had other potential options in the NFL next season as an offensive coordinator, but chose the Ravens. Ironically, Cameron would have been high on Billick's list as a replacement for himself as the play-caller if he hadn't been fired.

"The Baltimore Ravens reached out to me early in the process," said Cameron, who was initially contacted by team officials a few weeks ago. "I have a tremendous amount of respect for the organization having competed against them. I'm glad this came together."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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