Ravens believe Chris Hewitt the right man to lead a secondary resurgence

Jon Meoli
Contact ReporterThe Baltimore Sun
First-year secondary coach Chris Hewitt relates to his players, but will that translate to success for the Rav

With his charges in the defensive back group moving on to another session of the Ravens' first practice Thursday, defensive backs coach Chris Hewitt ran in the opposite direction to settle a score.

Kamar Aiken had just corralled a pass on the sideline with second-year cornerback Rashaan Melvin in tight coverage, a catch Hewitt believed Aiken only made because he pushed off.

Hewitt went out of his way to tell the referee as much, fighting for his player after the rest of the team had moved on.

A former NFL defensive back, Hewitt knows what his players face every day. It's that experience, and his balance of intensity and empathy, that leads Ravens players and coaches to believe he's the man to lead the secondary back to prominence in 2015.

"Him coming in, fighting for us, it means a lot to not just me but the secondary as a whole," Melvin said. "We know that we have a coach that's going to go to bat for us no matter what situation it is. That's what you need as a player. That's what motivates you."

Hewitt, in his fourth year with the Ravens and first as defensive backs coach, is tasked with motivating and improving a group responsible for a pass defense that ranked in the bottom third of the NFL in multiple categories in 2014.

Veterans Jimmy Smith and Lardarius Webb battled injuries, the safety spots were in constant flux and reserves Asa Jackson, Melvin and Anthony Levine cycled through the cornerback spots, with out-of-position safety Matt Elam struggling as well.

Nearly everyone in Hewitt's room could stand to play better, or at least more consistently, in 2015. Coach John Harbaugh believes Hewitt is the one to bring it out of them.

"Everybody has always responded to him," Harbaugh said. "He has that kind of personality. He's a no-nonsense kind of a guy. That's the way he played. [He was] one of the biggest hitters you'll ever see as a football player, so I think he transfers that kind of a mindset to the way he coaches."

Born in Jamaica but raised in New Jersey, Hewitt's path to the Ravens began as a safety at the University of Cincinnati in the mid 1990s. There, he played under Harbaugh and associate head coach/special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg.

His coaching career began after a three-season stint as a safety who starred on special teams for the New Orleans Saints from 1997 to 1999.

The first of four training camps in the NFL's Minority Coaching Fellowship Program came in 2001 with the Cleveland Browns, and his first collegiate job came as Notre Dame's assistant strength and conditioning coach in 2003.

At his next stop, Rutgers, he spent three seasons as director of speed and skill development before splitting four years coaching cornerbacks and running backs.

Rosburg, who brought Hewitt to the Ravens as an assistant special teams coach in 2012, remembered him as a player who could simplify football to its most basic form. He laughed when recalling Hewitt's order to "just tell me what you want me to do" after a particularly complicated explanation at Cincinnati.

"He had a real clear view of football and how it's played," Rosburg said. "The other thing I've learned about Chris since he was helping me on special teams early on is he has a really keen eye for football players.

"He can look at tape and really quickly get down to the core of a guy and see if this guy is a really good football player."

Hewitt spent two years under Rosburg, then assisted Steve Spagnuolo in 2014 before he left for the New York Giants.

He was familiar with the personnel and playing style, but Jackson said the room is "a little bit lighter" under Hewitt.

Every one of his defensive backs respects his playing career, but cornerback Kyle Arrington, the group's most recent arrival, laughed when emphasizing that Hewitt is a "former" athlete who tries to show as well as teach.

Still, Arrington stressed the line "in which you can talk to him like you're just shooting the breeze with your friend, but you also have that respect factor knowing that's your coach as well."

At age 41, Hewitt bristled at the idea of connecting so well with players because he's young. His 19-year-old daughter is closer in age to many of his players than he is, but he admits to having a "young attitude."

"I'm in tune to all those things [they're into]," Hewitt said. "There are a lot of things that they listen to, I listen to, too. So yes, we have a good relationship that way, and as far as relating to them, obviously, me playing the position and coaching the position, that's another thing that we're [connecting with]. They respond to me."

He commands respect because of his NFL experience and his ability to relate to the players' lives, and uses the off-field relationship to push them farther on it.

That's not always enjoyable, even if it's constructive. In Saturday's first padded practice, he made veterans Webb and Arrington redo a tackling drill because of poor form. Moments before he chased down the referee in Melvin's defense on the first day of camp, he lit into the young cornerback for not jumping a floater in the flat.

"Rashaan, are you OK?" Hewitt shouted at him. "It took a whole lot of time for that ball to get there. That ball was hanging!"

"I'm a little intense, because I want them to be intense as well," Hewitt said. "I get in their face a little bit sometimes, and I'm always going to try to motivate them. But at the same time, I always want to be a teacher first and foremost."

Said Melvin: "He expects a lot from his players, with discipline, with our attitudes, with our focus. He wants to make sure we're the best secondary that we can be. That comes with hard work. That comes with being disciplined and dedicated to what we're doing. It means a lot for a coach to push for his players."

jmeoli@baltsun.com

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