"WildBird" Treading Carefully

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Seeing Joe Flacco and Troy Smith giving defenses fits with the Ravens' new offensive wrinkles – as evidenced by the 43-yard bomb Smith threw to Flacco last week – has many fans clamoring for more fireworks.

But as much excitement such packages have generated across the NFL, Baltimore is taking a cautious approach to putting their two quarterbacks on the field at the same time.

While big plays often lead to points, there is also a big risk for injury.

"Our season is so long, you've got to be careful of getting guys beat up, and I understand that,"' said offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. "The play to Joe was great, but, if he loses a shoulder there, it's not so great.

"We're going to be clever to a point, but it's going to be done with a very specific purpose."

Cameron was vague as to how much the Ravens would employ the double-barreled weapon, which consists of Smith lining up as the sole man in the backfield as Flacco splits out wide.

In last weekend's 29-10 win over the Oakland Raiders, Baltimore ran that formation four times for 75 total yards. On drives featuring Smith, the Ravens totaled 13 points.

People have compared it to Miami's "Wildcat" formation, which has running back Ronnie Brown taking the snaps, but those in Baltimore think having a proven, multi-threat quarterback is a big difference.

"The tough ones are the ones that have a quarterback who can do that," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "Whether it's a Troy Smith, whether it's a Kordell Stewart, whether it's a Michael Vick or anybody else that has that kind of [potential]… Steve Young would have been fantastic at it.

"Because now, you're really worried on the pass, run, all that kind of stuff. They give you a traditional passing set, and yet, they're running the football out of it, using the quarterback."

Ryan has seen his share of non-traditional formations over his seven years coaching in the AFC North.

The division rival Pittsburgh Steelers have used wideouts (and former Georgia signal-caller) Hines Ward and Antwaan Randle El (also a former collegiate quarterback at Indiana) on trick plays. The Cleveland Browns put receiver Joshua Cribbs, a passer for Bowling Green, in the backfield.

In fact, Cameron was first exposed to this type of offense when he coached Randle El at the University of Indiana. Under Cameron's tutelage, Randle El finished his career as the NCAA Division I-A rushing leader among quarterbacks and was the only player in college football history to both rush and pass for 40 touchdowns.

"Now you've got more guys coming out of college that have done this stuff, so the learning curve is better for us," Cameron explained. "You see trends. It used to be trends would go from the NFL down to college. Now, it's both ways. It's like anything else. It just works in cycles."

From a defensive perspective, however, Ryan almost invites opposing teams to put their offensive leader out in space.

In a league where quarterbacks are highly-protected commodities, it is the only time when the penalties that typically apply to the position are lifted.

"Anytime a guy breaks a line of scrimmage and things like that, he's now a ball carrier," Ryan said. "You're going to tackle him like you would anybody else.

"I will say this: Fran Tarkenton, I saw him do this many years ago when my dad was coaching with the Vikings," he continued. "I think he got a concussion and 18 stitches later in his chin. I'm not saying… I'm just saying that has a tendency to happen."

Which is exactly why the Ravens are treading carefully with their former Heisman Trophy winner and their first-round draft pick - both to keep defenses guessing and to keep their quarterbacks healthy.

"You've got to open your eyes and look out there and see if the things that you have prepared fit," said Cameron. "Sometimes, they just don't fit. I think it's a trap [where] you can try to force something, and I've told both those guys we aren't going to do that.

"At the same time, they're both still young, up-and-coming quarterbacks. It doesn't make a lot of sense to expose them to getting hit a lot. So, we're not going to overcook this thing. Both are talented guys that can do multiple things, and we're just going to pick and choose when we decide to use it."

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