Baltimore Ravens' Defense Still Ravenous Despite Changes

Ryan MinkContributor IMay 28, 2009

PITTSBURGH - JANUARY 18:  Ray Lewis #52 of the Baltimore Ravens reacts against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the AFC Championship game on January 18, 2009 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

When you’ve had arguably the best defense in football for the past decade, eventually everyone will want a piece of it.

Baltimore has seen all three of its defensive coordinators leave for head coaching positions and some of its burgeoning defensive talent head to other teams for big contracts.

So despite entering this year with a new cast and new coach, nothing is amiss around Owings Mills this preseason. The Ravens still feel they can be one of the league’s most dominating defenses.

The biggest change comes at the top with the departure of three-year Defensive Coordinator Rex Ryan, who started with the Ravens in 1999 as the defensive line coach and led the team to the No. 2 rating last year, behind only Pittsburgh.

Ryan followed in the footsteps of now-Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis and former 49ers Head Coach Mike Nolan when he became the head coach of the New York Jets this offseason.

He brought an aggressive 3-4 scheme to Baltimore's defense that became known as “organized chaos” around the league. The Ravens have long been known for their relentless blitz packages and Ryan’s defense not only kept the same pressure, but brought it from more angles.

Replacing Ryan is Greg Mattison, who was promoted from linebackers coach this offseason. Before that, Mattison was a long-time defensive coordinator at the University of Florida.

Mattison, 59, has said he doesn’t plan to stray from the 3-4 scheme or turn down the dial on intensity. During his 37 years coaching, and especially during his time in Florida, Mattison has been known to bring the pressure.

But the coaching change isn’t the only issue the Ravens defense will have to deal with.

While the face of the Ravens stayed with the re-signing of Ray Lewis, the team lost two starters and a key backup, all to Ryan’s Jets.

Bart Scott, who ranked second on the Ravens in tackles last season with 82, went to New York along with safety Jim Leonhard, who ranked third on the team in tackles, and defensive tackle Marques Douglass also departed.

But the Ravens have dealt with big-time linebackers leaving before. They lost Jamie Sharper to the Texans after winning the Super Bowl, Ed Hartwell to the Falcons after 2004, and Adalius Thomas to the Patriots two years ago.

Outside linebacker and pass rusher Terrell Suggs remains, and the Ravens are looking for last year’s third-round draft pick Tavares Gooden of Miami to step up along with second-round draft pick Paul Kruger of Utah and second-year player Jameel McClain of Syracuse.

Gooden, who sat out last year with a hip injury, looks to be the favorite to replace Scott although McClain, the team’s only unsigned rookie free agent to make last year’s roster, played in every game last season.

The Ravens’ secondary has a few openings as well after the team released Pro Bowl veteran cornerback Chris McAlister and lost Leonhard and Corey Ivey to free agency. There is a competition to start opposite free agent signee Dominique Foxworth between veteran Samari Rolle and youngster Fabian Washington.

Even with different names on the jerseys, don’t expect to see too much change when Baltimore is on defense. After all, the Ravens have survived adjustments before.