OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Talking to the media for the first time since the end of a disastrous 2013 season, Baltimore Ravens offensive line coach Juan Castillo refused to dwell on the worst rushing season in team history.
"I'd rather not talk about last year. This is this year," Castillo said three separate times during the 6 1/2-minute question-and-answer session when asked about the challenging 2013 campaign.
Castillo has been a lightening rod for fans because he had the title of "run game coordinator" for a ground game that averaged 83 yards per game and 3.1 yards per carry -- both of which were the lowest in the Ravens' 18-year history. Message boards were filled with topics like "Is Juan Castillo the problem?"
While the coaching staff underwent the most change in coach John Harbaugh's six seasons, Harbaugh retained Castillo because he believes Castillo is one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL.
Castillo now has a new title, replacing Andy Moeller as the offensive line coach, and there are three new starters from the line that finished last season. This is why he strongly believes there will be different results.
He said he's "very confident" in the Ravens' ability to run the ball this season.
"That's what our offense is going to be," Castillo said. "We're going to come off the football, we're going to finish and we're going to be physical."
There were reports that Castillo and the players didn't get along last season.
A source told The Baltimore Sun that players told coach John Harbaugh during the season that they were unhappy with the new blocking scheme instituted by Castillo. After the season, owner Steve Bisciotti acknowledged Castillo "did come on too strong and ruffled some feathers."
"The important thing, with any coach, is the players knowing you and really trusting you," Castillo said. "I think that happens through time. I think the guys now are getting to know me and hopefully they trust me."
If the preseason opener is any indication, the Ravens are on the right track with their offensive line and running game.
The Ravens' running backs gained 194 yards on 40 carries, a 4.8-yard average. On the opening drive, the starters produced 26 yards and one touchdown on five carries.
"I really like where they're at right now," Harbaugh said. "I'm looking forward to seeing how they do Saturday night and going forward. Our coaches have done a great job with them. I'm excited about where they're going."
The Ravens' stretch, zone-blocking scheme showed promise from the first play in the preseason opener. The blockers got off the ball, and Ray Rice gained 6 yards off right tackle.
"We were trying to punish people," Castillo said. "It wasn't so much the yards but how the combinations looked and how the backs were able to make their cuts."
The pressure is on Castillo to improve the offensive line. It'll be hard to defend him if the line struggles for a second straight year with a different cast of starters and the same coach.
Asked if it's difficult not to take the criticism personally, Castillo said, "I think if you're a competitor, you do. Obviously, you want to get better. Last year is last year. This year is this year. It's a great opportunity for us."