BALTIMORE — A year ago, Ravens offensive coordinator Greg Roman was tasked with any offensive mind’s dream, asked to design a system from the ground up.
Given the offense’s superlatives from last season — the all-time NFL rushing record, the league’s top-scoring offense, the sport’s Most Valuable Player — Roman’s work should be considered a success.
But after the league’s most efficient offense sputtered in a stunning divisional-round loss to the Tennessee Titans, Roman was sent back to the drawing board, left to ponder how to make adjustments for future success while retaining the roots that made the offense so potent.
“I think once the score kind of got out of hand on us, that’s when things really flipped from a balanced attack,” Roman told reporters Tuesday, speaking for the first time since the season-ending loss.
“A game like that, as a coach you always blame yourself first. You always look inwards, you always want to push the right buttons and pull the right levers. I’m the first person I look at when that happens. But it’s really just a function of a lot of the little things that we did during the regular season, we just didn’t execute at a high enough level.”
With offseason workout programs becoming virtual because of the coronavirus pandemic, the first time Roman will be able to install his latest modifications will likely come in late July, when teams are scheduled to report for training camp. With defenses now having a season’s worth of film, the trick will be to stay ahead of the curve.
“I think we’ve definitely tweaked things,” Roman said. “We haven’t had the luxury of the OTAs and whatnot to kind of test run certain things, so we’ve got to be really judicious with how we use that time in training camp to experiment. I think experimenting is going to be very selective.”
Questions about the long-term viability of the offense will ultimately lie with quarterback Lamar Jackson, who broke Michael Vick’s single-season rushing record and passed for a league-high 36 touchdowns but struggled in the loss to the Titans.
“There’s a magic to his style and how he plays, some creativity,” Roman said. “And we always want to focus that creativity and that energy into winning football and winning football decisions on the field. Accuracy, timing, vision, all those things. There’s certain things we want to work on and emphasize more. Throwing the ball into different parts of the field, for example.”
Even with returning a bulk of the offense’s production from last season, key questions loom, mainly regarding Jackson’s supporting cast. Jackson’s improvement as a passer was well-noted, but he struggled targeting receivers outside the hashes, compared to over the middle of the field.
After relying heavily on tight ends in the passing game, the Ravens added two wide receivers through the draft in Devin Duvernay and James Proche, as well as running back J.K. Dobbins.
Roman also expressed optimism with the maturation of second-year wideouts Marquise “Hollywood” Brown and Miles Boykin, as well as the return of veteran Willie Snead IV.
Brown has frequently uploaded videos of his offseason workouts and seems to have no lingering issues with the Lisfranc injury that kept him out of the first week of training camp, as well as the high ankle sprain that forced him to sit out two games.
“I think last year all of us to a man were saying, ‘Wow, once Hollywood has an offseason, a real offseason, wow, that’s going to be something,’” Roman said. “So I think we’re going to see that this year.”
After Boykin admitted he went through growing pains his rookie year, Roman said he would “load his plate” and also called Snead a “Swiss Army knife.”
As for the addition of Dobbins to a crowded backfield, Roman invited the challenge, calling it a “good problem.”
“I don’t think you can have enough really good running backs and we’ve certainly got a plethora of them,” Roman said. “I’m really excited to see J.K. and I love the guys we already have, Mark, Gus and Justice.
“We’ll find ways to make it work for sure and to have that kind of backfield is a blessing and we definitely want to get into training camp and work through it and kind of evolve as we go as far as how we’re actually going to deploy them, who are we going to emphasize how. I think that’s going to happen on the fly every day in training camp and we’ll get a better feel for that. But I love problems like that.”
Roman added that “opportunity looms” for undrafted free agent tight ends Jacob Breeland and Eli Wolf, as well as second-year player Charles Scarff, after Hayden Hurst was traded to the Atlanta Falcons this offseason.
And with stalwart guard Marshal Yanda retired, Roman said there will be a “real competition” to fill his void, as well as the other interior line positions.
Training camp will come at some point, there will be competition at various spots and Roman will integrate the changes he has conceived. But make no mistake, his system will still resemble the record-breaking one that has altered many perceptions of a modern-day offense.
“We’re going to use multiple personnel groups. Everybody’s going to have different roles on different plays,” Roman said. “We’re going to be a very multiple offense. You might see three, four tight ends on the field. You might see five (wide receivers) on the field. The next play you might see something completely different and everybody’s going to have an important role.
“How we build the overall attack week-to-week will be different. But one thing is for sure, we’re going to be multiple with how we deploy personnel. So the more the merrier and (I’m) really excited to get to work with those guys.”