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Ravens defense focuses on communication ahead of second preseason game

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees puts the film on during defensive meetings and encourages his fellow coaches not to speak. As the footage rolls, he wants to hear only the voices of his players.

Loud responses are welcome. Silence isn't. A wrong answer is better than no answer.

"All the players have to do all the communication while the film is going on," Pees said. "That way, you know. That's the time to do it. Like I've told them, 'Don't be shy about it.' If you're wrong, now we can fix it. If you don't say anything, I don't know if you know. But even if you say it wrong, then I can tell you why it's wrong and we can get that fixed. So, the biggest thing in communication is both in the classroom and then taking it to the practice field."

With as many as six new defensive starters from the team that won Super Bowl XLVII in February, it was probably inevitable that the Ravens would deal with some communication issues, especially this early in training camp. However, a few too many surfaced in the Ravens' preseason-opening 44-16 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last week.

As the team prepares for their preseason home opener against the Atlanta Falcons on Thursday night at M&T Bank Stadium, Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Pees have tasked their players with eliminating such issues which contributed last week to penalties, missed assignments and big plays.

"Communication is the final piece and that's why those guys have to play a little bit more, even in these games," Harbaugh said earlier this week. "They have to play together in practice, because every kind of formation comes up with all the defenses we run, that you just have to see them. And they have to be able to anticipate them, and do it over and over again until it becomes second nature."

The Ravens' first-team defense held the Buccaneers to two field goals in little more than a quarter of work. Pees liked the speed and effort his unit played with but lamented a few ill-timed penalties and one breakdown that nearly went for a touchdown.

On the final play of the first quarter, the Buccaneers had their ball on their own 6-yard line with rookie Mike Glennon under center and his tight end Tom Crabtree lined up to his right. After the snap, Crabtree ran up the middle of the field, splitting Ravens middle linebacker Daryl Smith and weak-side linebacker Josh Bynes who both released the tight end.

Free safety Michael Huff moved toward the line of scrimmage to pressure Glennon but he didn't get to him quickly enough. Both Smith and cornerback Corey Graham converged on Buccaneers wide receiver Tiquan Underwood in the slot. That left Crabtree wide open behind the Ravens' defense and only a Graham touchdown-saving sprint and tackle held the Buccaneers to a 61-yard gain.

"It was actually one of those things that we've actually done in practice probably plenty of times and really got it right," Pees said. "It was just one of those game situations that we had them backed up, and I think everybody was feeling we were going to get after them a little bit. We just didn't have good communication. It was just a breakdown. I don't think it was so much new guys. I don't think it was so much time of year, as much as just we just weren't on top of it on that play. We've done that same call over and over out here. [Offensive coordinator Jim Caldwell] has given us that same look with the same call, same check, and I would say we've gotten it [right] 90 percent of the time, but that one time we didn't."

Graham didn't use timing or all the new defensive personnel as an excuse, but he acknowledged that both may have contributed to the miscue.

"You never want to make that mistake, to be honest with you. That's not acceptable for that to happen but things happen," he said. "That's part of the chemistry and getting to know each other, getting to know everybody. That's why we're out there to play together, to get to know each other and what's going to happen and expect things before, so you're not just reacting and you know what's going to happen beforehand. As a defense, we got to continue to grind, continue to be out there together and play together and continue to get better every week."

Huff agreed saying that the biggest issue for the defense is "getting used to playing with each other."

Middle linebacker Ray Lewis had played 17 seasons with the Ravens and was considered the undisputed leader of the defense until he retired after the Super Bowl. Safety Ed Reed was the quarterback of the secondary for 11 seasons but he's now with the Houston Texans. Both were extremely vocal who earned immense respect from teammates due to the way they prepared and were students of the game.

The defense that they departed will have two new starters at safety (Huff and either James Ihedigbo or rookie Matt Elam), two new starters at inside linebacker (Smith and Bynes or rookie Arthur Brown), one at defensive end (Chris Canty) and potentially one at cornerback (Jimmy Smith). But even a couple of the holdover starters are being used in different roles with Haloti Ngata moving from defensive tackle to nose tackle and Art Jones moving from defensive tackle to defensive end.

Daryl Smith, the man expected to relay Pees' calls to the rest of the defense, is a nine-year veteran but he's moving from outside linebacker in the Jacksonville Jaguars' 4-3 defense to middle linebacker in the Ravens' 3-4 alignment. He's also surrounded by guys that he's never played with before, adding to the challenge.

"When you have new guys come in to a system, we all have to be talking the same way, we all have to communicate," said Smith. "Communication is a big part of being a good defense. So us communicating allows us to be on the same page. Like I said, the more experience that we get playing together and gain that trust with each other and everything, the communication factor is huge for us and we'll be building that as training camp goes on."

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

Baltimore Sun reporter Aaron Wilson contributed to this article.

Three Things to Watch

As the Ravens head into their preseason home opener Thursday night against the Atlanta Falcons at M&T Bank Stadium, here's a checklist of things to keep an eye on:

1. Will the wide receivers bounce back?

It was a rough debut last week as Torrey Smith, Tandon Doss, Jacoby Jones and Deonte Thompson combined for just three catches for 21 yards with three drops, and a better showing is necessary for a receiving corps that no longer has the reliable presence of Anquan Boldin following an offseason trade. Although slot receiver Brandon Stokley just joined the team, he's expected to be involved in a limited package of plays highlighting his chain-moving capabilities.

2. What's going on at cornerback?

There were too many fundamental lapses a week ago with Chykie Brown drawing penalties while failing to turn around to play the football, and Jimmy Smith squandering a chance a potential interception when he committed the same mistake. This game should provide a good barometer for the secondary since the Falcons have one of the fastest, most dangerous receiving tandems in the NFL with Julio Jones and Roddy White.

3. What's at stake for Shiancoe?

The addition of tight end Dallas Clark raises the stakes for Visanthe Shiancoe, who displayed signs of rust and inconsistent hands last week despite catching three passes for 27 yards. With the Ravens expected to hold Clark out Thursday since he's only practiced once, Shiancoe needs to make a lasting impression on the coaching staff as this shapes up as a big night for him.

Aaron Wilson

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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