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Gary Kubiak Working With Ravens On West Coast Offense

June 10, 2014

OWINGS MILLS -- Most wouldn't think that Baltimore, a city unmistakably located on the East Coast, would have a geography problem.

But when it comes to football, that's exactly what keeps happening.

For the better part of two decades, the Colts -- for the purposes of competitive balance -- were aligned into the NFL's Western Conference, meaning teams such as the Los Angeles Rams and San Francisco 49ers were regular opponents, and the Cleveland Browns and Washington Redskins were not.

These days, the Ravens play in the AFC North, which seems to be a bit of a misnomer given that teams such as New England and the New York Jets from the so-called East are located even further north than Baltimore.

Now, the Ravens are taking the field with perhaps the purest version of the West Coast offense they have ever run, thanks to first-year offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak.

"It's very exciting, very challenging," Kubiak said after an organized team activity practice. "We've got some new players, but [practices] have been really good. We're throwing everything at them and seeing what sticks."

If one session is any indication, there are some aspects of the short-passing-based scheme that are sticking, and some that are not.

For instance, quarterback Joe Flacco had no problem lightly dropping back three steps and drilling a hard pass into the midsection of tight end Owen Daniels.

But on another play, a miscommunication with a receiver on a sideline route that was apparently supposed to be run further inside resulted in an incompletion.

In what appeared to be a nod to the team's learning curve with the scheme, the loud music usually played during practice to simulate crowd noise -- selections usually range from 50 Cent and Kanye West to Rick Springfield and the Bee Gees -- did not blare at its usual high volume.

But the occasional miscues don't seem to bother Kubiak for now, considering an often overlooked and underrated aspect of Flacco's game.

"I always knew Joe had a big arm," Kubiak said. "But I had no idea how good an athlete he is. We always teach [quarterbacks] to read with their eyes, but they have to read with their feet as well."

Earlier during the OTA sessions, head coach John Harbaugh remarked that Flacco indeed had to improve his footwork, though Flacco insisted there weren't many changes for him to make.

"It's all the same footwork," Flacco said. "It's just making sure that you tie it into your reads and that you can do it spot-on in practice, in routes versus the air, so that when things break down a little bit, you're ready to go, you're still set and you're ready to throw."

Under Kubiak, the Houston Texans posted the third-best completion percentage in the league during the eight years the West Coast scheme has run there. At 64.3 percent, the Texans trailed only New Orleans and San Diego in that department.

But with a dazzling array of targets that, on paper, could give the Ravens their most explosive offense yet -- along with an upgraded offensive line that won't have to hold blocks nearly as long, thanks to shorter drops -- Flacco's career completion rate of 60.2 percent could grow by leaps and bounds.

In turn, that could cause problems for enemy defenses, for it already is wreaking in-house havoc.

"It's giving us a lot of headaches," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said. "[The offense is] a lot [different]. I love working with Gary. He's such a good coach.

"It's such a very multiple offense. I always thought it was when [Kubiak ran it in] Houston and Denver. He's got a lot of weapons, and he knows how to use them."

For his part, Kubiak said the feeling was mutual when it came to getting headache-inducting schemes thrown at him from Pees and the aggressive Ravens defense.

But, when it comes to taking on an important challenge far away from the head-coaching spotlight, which produced some health problems, Kubiak seems as motivated as the players he's trying to bring up to speed.

"Things have been really good," he said. "It's a challenge as a coach."

Kubiak is someone who apparently knows who he is, not to mention where he is.

Joe Platania is in his 21st season covering professional football.

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