When head coaching opportunities came calling this offseason, Gary Kubiak resisted… until old buddy John Elway made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. That put the Ravens in the market for a new offensive coordinator—their fourth in as many seasons—and they moved quickly to bring recently deposed Bears head coach Marc Trestman to Baltimore.
Trestman certainly has big shoes to fill, as under Kubiak’s direction the 2014 Ravens established franchise marks in both points scored and total yards. But Trestman has been here before—not just as an NFL play-caller, which he’s done for five different franchises over the course of 10 seasons, but also as the immediate successor to Kubiak. In 1995, Trestman returned to the NFL from a three-year hiatus to take over as offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach in San Francisco when Kubiak and Mike Shanahan moved on to Denver.
Both Kubiak and Trestman spring from the tree of the West Coast offense, which is one of the reasons John Harbaugh opted for Trestman over Adam Gase, the only other coach to interview for the job. Harbaugh also may have listened to his brother, Jim, who coached with Trestman in Oakland and, when Trestman was hired by the Bears in 2013, told ESPN Radio in Chicago, “[That he taught me] everything wouldn’t be an overstatement. We use his system still of calling plays and the way he taught us those concepts and techniques.”
“The main thing is he’s such a good fit for us going forward,” John Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun following Trestman’s hiring. “His experience level, his background in this offense, the fact that he can take us exactly from where we are, offensively, in terms of the terminology and the system that’s in place and move it forward and build off of that, that was a determining factor.”
“It’s never going to be my offense,” Trestman said in the same Baltimore Sun article. “It’s always going to be the Ravens’ offense. I’ve been in this situation before on two or three occasions where there was a pre-existing coordinator and a very successful situation. I think the framework and the formula for this is for me to go in and learn the offense and learn the nuances of the offense. The language is going to be similar, because Gary and I come out of the same training ground in terms of learning what people know as the West Coast offense. So my idea would be, ‘Why would I have 40-some guys learn a new offense when I’m just one person? Isn’t it easier for me to learn it than to start over with everybody else, including coaches?”
One key similarity that will remain is the zone blocking system the Ravens installed in 2010 and Kubiak helped refine last season. Trestman has used some zone blocking schemes along the way, but he’ll be more fully committed to it in Baltimore. As he told ESPN, “The platform, or the starting point, is certainly running the zone plays, and that’s not going to change.”
The obvious concern, then, is Trestman’s penchant for the pass. In 10 previous seasons as an NFL play-caller, Trestman’s offenses have finished in the top 10 in passing five times and in the top 10 in rushing only once. Moreover, Trestman’s offenses have ranked in the bottom half of the league in rushing attempts in eight of those 10 seasons.
“We have a way we want to play and we have a system in place,” Harbaugh told the Baltimore Sun. “We’ve been running the ball here for a long time. That has been our philosophy and our belief, and Marc understands that. Marc has run the ball at different places with a ton of success, too. I’m not worried about anybody’s perception of the whole thing. I understand what kind of an offense we’re going to be going forward and Marc believes in that, and we’re ready to roll with that.”
And while under Trestman the Bears ranked 31st in run/pass ratio last season, that doesn’t mean Matt Forte was unused. In fact, Forte was the most targeted running back in the NFL—hardly unusual for a Trestman offense. You can go all the way back to Derek Loville’s 87 catches for the 1995 49ers or Charlie Garner’s 91 receptions for the 2002 Raiders to see how Trestman uses his backs as receivers. If the Ravens retain free agent Justin Forsett, he should easily improve on his 44 catches from last season.
Of course, Trestman’s reputation is as a quarterback whisperer and his calm, scholarly demeanor matches those of Kubiak and Jim Caldwell, who have worked with Joe Flacco in the past. The wrinkles Trestman might bring to the Baltimore passing game include more use of the shotgun, though as he pointed out in his press conference his Super Bowl champion 2002 Raiders used no shotgun so he’s not necessarily married to it.
Under Kubiak Flacco ran more play action and rollouts, and you can expect Trestman to find a way to incorporate that into his offense as well—shotgun or no. Trestman also comes from a team with two monster-sized receivers in Alshon Jeffery and Brandon Marshall, along with tight end Martellus Bennett. The Ravens offer Steve Smith, who only plays big; both Torrey Smith and Owen Daniels are free agents. Without knowing the full extent of the Ravens’ passing game personnel it’s tough to get a read on what specifically Trestman will attempt to do in Baltimore—which in many ways makes the decision to bring back (or not bring back) Forsett so important.
Trestman brings 34 years of coaching experience to the table, and as he’s indicated in quotes above he’s been in this situation before. Once the Ravens settle on which personnel he’ll be supporting Joe Flacco with, Trestman can deliver an offensive game plan that takes advantage of what those players do well. It will definitely have West Coast roots, and because it’s the Ravens it will definitely start with the ground game. From there, however, we may need to see how the roster shakes out before accurately projecting what will come out of Trestman’s offensive laboratory.