Following tradition, the Ravens promoted from within the organization following former defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s acceptance of the head coaching position with the New York Jets.
Former Ravens linebacker coach Greg Mattison is the next man up.
With the promotion, Mattison inherits the NFL’s second-ranked defense last season—minus starting linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard—both of whom followed Ryan to New York.
Also missing from the Ravens roster will be former 1st-round draft pick Chris McAlister, who was released by the team following a tumultuous 2008 season.
McAlister and head coach John Harbaugh reportedly did not get along, resulting in McAlister’s benching for the Week Seven matchup against the Dolphins. A nagging knee injury culminated in season-ending surgery and McAlister was placed on injured reserve last November.
The Ravens replaced McAlister in the offseason by signing cornerback Dominique Foxworth, who is expected to team up with Fabian Washington to form one of the fastest cover tandems in the league.
Nobody is more dangerous around the football than Ed Reed, but he has a tendency to gamble on plays and roam from his position, which sometimes leaves the secondary susceptible to big plays downfield.
The pairing of Foxworth and Washington is an attempt by the Ravens to stop speedy receivers from beating the corners deep, freeing Reed to make his trademark big plays. By bringing back Samari Rolle and signing free agent Chris Carr, the Ravens add depth and experience in the secondary.
Second-year linebackers Tavares Gooden and Jameel McClain are expected to compete for Scott’s vacant linebacker position next to Ray Lewis.
Mattison will also enjoy the return of starters Kelly Gregg and Dawan Landry, each of whom spent an extended amount of time on injured reserve last season.
Landry is expected to return after missing all but three games after suffering a spinal cord concussion against the Cleveland Browns. He will compete with second-year safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski for the starting position vacated by Leonhard.
Gregg, returning from microfracture surgery on his left knee, will play alongside Haloti Ngata who is coming off a Pro Bowl-caliber season.
Expect second-round draft pick Paul Kruger to spell DE Trevor Pryce and contribute as a pass-rushing specialist. Pryce will turn 34 before the beginning of the season.
Although Mattison has only been in the NFL for a year, he spent 31 years coaching in college, including 10 as a defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, Michigan, and Western Michigan.
In a recent interview, Mattison said he wasn’t planning on making too many changes to Rex Ryan’s complex cover-two scheme, but he does plan to tweak a few things in order to take advantage of a few players’ strengths.
The Ravens’ stalwart defense continues to carry the team, in spite of having three coordinators—Marvin Lewis (Cincinnati), Mike Nolan (San Francisco), and now Rex Ryan—move on to head coaching positions.
With Mattison’s experience, the Ravens’ complex blitz schemes, and their interchangeable defensive personnel, expect “Organized Chaos” to reign in Baltimore.
Cameron Expanding Flacco’s Playbook
In 2008, Joe Flacco became the first rookie quarterback in NFL history to win two playoff games—admittedly with a limited playbook. As the season progressed, Flacco proved he could be more than just a game manager. This season, offensive coordinator Cam Cameron is placing more responsibility on his young quarterback this season.
The offense took a hit when the unquestioned leader of the offensive line, guard/center Jason Brown, signed as an unrestricted free agent with the St. Louis Rams. But GM Ozzie Newsome was able to lure six-time Pro Bowl center Matt Birk from the Vikings to provide veteran leadership to a young offensive line.
In the Draft, the Ravens were able to address a glaring need at offensive tackle by taking Michael Oher with the 23rd pick.
Originally, Oher was expected to compete with Willie Anderson for the starting right tackle position, but Anderson was recently placed on the reserve/retired list after reporting to camp overweight and still dealing with nagging injuries.
If Oher is able beat out Adam Terry and lock down the right side of the line, it should free up Todd Heap and free agent acquisition L.J. Smith to participate more in the passing game. Heap, traditionally the Ravens’ most effective red zone threat, was forced to help the patchwork offensive line block for much of last season.
The Ravens hope the return of Demetrius Williams, who also finished the year on injured reserve, will give Flacco another vertical threat and help aging veteran Derrick Mason and the underachieving Mark Clayton.
After a strong showing in minicamp, the team also signed 6-foot-3 receiver Kelley Washington, who is expected to provide Flacco with another large target in the red zone.
Le’Ron McClain will assume the fullback duties with free agent Lorenzo Neal departing for the Oakland Raiders. With Neal blocking, McClain had a breakout season, leading the team in rushing with 902 yards on 232 carries.
McClain scored 11 touchdowns—10 rushing and one receiving—on the way to his first Pro Bowl. With McClain once again playing fullback, expect Willis McGahee and Ray Rice to see more carries this season.