With new-look defense, Ravens' Dean Pees 'very, very pleased with the effort'

Second-year defensive coordinator says new players learning the basics during organized team activities

A year ago, Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees was the new kid on the block. Now, he's teaching a bunch of new players.

The Ravens still have a defense in transition. Gone are two eventual Hall of Famers, linebacker Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed, as well as three other former starters, linebacker Dannell Ellerbe, cornerback Cary Williams and safety Bernard Pollard.

The new group of players includes defensive linemen Chris Canty, Marcus Spears, outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff and the 2013 rookie class.

As the Ravens finished their second week of organized team activities Friday afternoon, Pees, in his second year, appeared happy but exhausted. In addition to dealing with the heat Friday at the Under Armour Performance Center, he has a lot of work to do before the Ravens open training camp in late July.

Pees' voice has become distinctive at practices, much louder than that of both head coach John Harbaugh and offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell.

"There are a couple of things about OTAs," Pees said. "One, you want to try to get the majority of your stuff installed. You probably will never install everything that you are going to do throughout the year, but you get all your basic fronts, coverages, pressures and all that kind of stuff in.

"You try to cover all the different situations, whether it be two-minute [drill], four minutes, third-and-short, third-and-long, [that] kind of stuff in, and you try to do all the situational football and the calls that kind of go with that. The other thing is, obviously, is evaluating our players as a coaching staff."

A year ago, the Ravens had a defense good enough to complement the offense, but not strong enough to carry the team. This went against the tradition that started in 2000 when the Ravens always had one of the NFL's top defenses.

But instead of smothering the run and physically taking away an opponent's desire to play against them, the Ravens were ranked No. 20 in run defense last season, allowing 122.8 yards per game, and No. 17 in passing with a 228.1 yards-per-game average.

The Ravens had a hole in the middle of their defense with Lewis and Reed, and it became bigger in the offseason after Lewis retired and Reed signed with the Houston Texans.

Now, it's time to install and build.

"I think it's going to be different," Pees said. "It's always a different defense every year. The difference is we lost some stalwarts that have been here for a long, long time. The thing I like about this group is they're very attentive. They do a great job in the classroom. We have been working hard on the field. I am very, very pleased with the effort.

"We still have a long ways to go as far as learning everything and knowing all the techniques and stuff like that. It's really a good group to work with. I feel good about the talent we have."

The new core is versatile, and the players give the Ravens a lot of options and different looks they can use against other teams. Because of the strength on the defensive line, the Ravens can hide some of the inexperience at inside linebacker.

"I tell you what," Pees said, "all of them have been working hard. I don't really want to point anybody out, but you asked me about the new guys. Canty is a long guy. He's a big, tall guy and I think those guys — he and Marcus and Elvis, all of them — are going to add a lot to us.

"The good thing is that they can play multiple positions. Sometimes when you get a guy that can only play a three technique, can play a five technique, you kind of lock them into that. These guys have all kind of played all those positions. I think that's going to be a big benefit to us."

The Ravens also added former St. Louis Rams head coach Steve Spagnuolo as a defensive assistant. Spagnuolo is regarded as one of the best coaches in the league, and he'll be able to take some pressure off the Ravens staff, especially in the secondary.

There are still more pieces of the puzzle that have to come together before the start of training camp.

The Ravens need to get more extensive injury updates on outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, cornerback Lardarius Webb and inside linebacker Jameel McClain. The Ravens also need for defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to report in good physical condition, but teammates have reported that Ngata looks good.

But for now, there is still a lot of work to be done. Pees is almost back to stage one from a year ago, except he had a previous history with the Ravens as the linebackers coach.

Now, he is on familiar ground, but with a lot of new faces.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

 
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