OWINGS MILLS, Md. — Michael Christianson isn’t completely sold on Greg Roman as an offensive coordinator. That’s because he thinks the Ravens’ new offensive coordinator could be an even better defensive coordinator.
“He understands defenses so well,” Christianson said. “He could make a play and create five or six plays out of it just buy a simple look or a simple tweak, whatever our formations were. He was able to see something that a lot of people just missed.”
Christianson, an offensive assistant with Roman in San Francisco from 2011-2013, saw firsthand the last time Roman was on the cutting edge of NFL offenses.
With Jim Harbaugh as head coach, the 49ers were one of the first teams to utilize the read option at the NFL. Of the top four rushing teams in the NFL in 2012, three of them had some of the league’s most mobile quarterbacks and ran the read option. The 49ers placed fourth behind Seattle, Washington and Minnesota.
“For us, we got [Colin Kaepernick] in there, we had to do something to see what we could do to exploit his athletic ability and do the things he was good at,” Christianson said. “We were pretty fortunate, most of the teams hadn’t seen something like that yet.”
The NFL was slowly catching up to the amateur ranks, where read option schemes were commonplace across most conferences. Roman’s offense was one of the first teams to bring that look to the NFL.
In the following two years, his offenses placed third and fourth in rushing. In 2015 in Buffalo, the Bills placed first. And last season, the Ravens were second in the NFL — and first after Lamar Jackson took over at quarterback.
“It’s really about how you disguise things, how you present them, how you get in and out of plays in certain situations,” Christianson said. “For Greg, he’s phenomenal at that. He really understands the big picture.”
One of the things that he noted Roman excels at is his ability to be a teacher. With a Ravens roster that has a second-year quarterback, two rookie wide receivers, two second-year tight ends and a host of other newcomers, the Ravens will need to learn and adapt on the fly.
“That’s what Greg does really well, getting people to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing,” Christianson said. “Rather than go up and draw circles and lines on a board, Greg is really good at saying, ‘This is the scheme, this is the thought process, this is what we’re expecting to get.’”
There are some concerns of some, however, about what kind of step forward Jackson can take in his second-year as a starter. Those concerns aren’t in the Ravens practice facility.
Baltimore's offense has bought into Roman’s scheme wholeheartedly, which has helped with whatever learning curve Roman has had to teach.
“He’s very intense, he wants to emphasize the run game, getting after people, and the pass game as well,” Ravens center Matt Skura said. “He always puts a big emphasis on the offensive line, making sure we’re physical, we’re on our tasks as far as who we’re blocking. He’s just always on-point.”
In San Francisco, Roman led a 49ers offense that complimented the run game excellently. From 2012-14, Kaepernick posted QB Ratings of 98.3, 91.6 and 86.4.
Any concerns about Jackson’s throwing ability, at least when it comes to Roman’s past, should be tempered.
“That’s what we did real well to complement the run game,” said Geep Chryst, the 49ers quarterbacks coach from 2011-14. “Over a four-year period, the quarterback’s rating was in the top 10 in the league.”
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