As Offensive Line Coach Juan Castillo enters his second full season, he notices a change.
Castillo was added to the coaching staff in early 2013 as the Ravens went on their Super Bowl run. He took over the lead of the offensive line the next year, and implemented his proven blocking techniques and teaching methods.
While Castillo had used them to chrun out Pro Bowlers in Philadelphia for 16 years, the changes were new to the Ravens' offensive linemen.
On Thursday, Castillo was asked how he would compare this year to last.
"I think the important thing for any coach, I think is the players knowing you and really trusting you," Castillo said. "And I think that happens through time. I think the guys, now, they're getting to know me a little bit, and hopefully they trust me."
Amidst fans and on talk radio, Castillo was often the scapegoat for the Ravens' running problems last year. In reality, there were a lot of issues that went into it.
There were injuries along the offensive line with Kelechi Osemele (back) going down for most of the season. Center Gino Gradkowski was starting for the first time in his career. Running backs Ray Rice (hip) and Bernard Pierce (knee/shoulder) also labored throughout the entire season.
The Ravens were last in the NFL with just 3.1 yards per carry last season. They were 30th in rushing yards per game (83.0) in part because they had to largely abandon the run game and turn into a spread offense.
After the season ended, Head Coach John Harbaugh stuck by Castillo. The only change was in title, as Castillo went from being the run game coordinator to offensive line coach, a position previously held by Andy Moeller before he left for Cleveland.
New Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak will now coordinate the run game. He brings his tried-and-true zone run scheme that the offense will hang its hat on. And that scheme fits Castillo's mentality well.
"The biggest thing is [Kubiak runs his plays] over and over and over," Castillo said. "It becomes natural. Your linemen get a good feel for it, and also your back gets a good feel for the reads. Not everybody is committed like that to a certain scheme."
Castillo is always teaching. At the start of practice, when many players are still going through warm-ups, Castillo has his group working on individual drills, exploding and pushing each other off the line.
"There's never been a problem with Juan's coaching style," Harbaugh said in June. "It's just a lot of hard work, a lot of reps. He likes to see us do it over and over and over again until we're not thinking about it. That's just how we do it – we grind."
The run game should have more of a chance to flourish because Kubiak is dedicated to it, which was evident in the first preseason game. The Ravens' first opening touchdown drive was perfectly balanced with five runs and five passes. Baltimore ran 48 times for 237 yards, a staggering average of 4.9 yards per carry.
"We stay committed to the run game this year, which is a good thing," guard A.Q. Shipley said. "If we run it the first play and it doesn't get 5 yards, [Kubiak] might run it again. It gives us more opportunities as opposed to if you don't get success on first down then we're straight into passing all the time."
Kubiak wants physicality up front, and that's what Castillo has been teaching.
"We're trying to punish people," Castillo said.
"As a defensive player, it's tough when somebody comes off [the line of scrimmage] and hits you in the mouth and you have to make the tackle. As an offensive lineman, what you want to do is after you get that first hit, go ahead and finish."
The Ravens worked a great deal on their run game on Thursday, the final official day of training camp, and they feel good about where it's headed.
"We're confident that we're going to run the football," Castillo said. "We're going to come off the football, we're going to finish and we're going to be physical."
That's music to a lineman's ears.
"I really like where they're at right now," Harbaugh said of the offensive line. "Our coaches have done a great job with them and I'm excited about where they're going. Just like everybody else, we have to keep getting better."