Ravens defense excited with more flexible, free-flowing approach under Don 'Wink' Martindale

Ravens defensive players spoke reverentially of longtime defensive coordinator Dean Pees, both during his tenure with the team and after he announced his short-lived retirement following the end of the 2017 season.

However, players sure don’t seem to be having a hard time moving on with new defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale. Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs became the latest defensive leader to praise the early imprints Martindale has left on a defense that returns mostly intact from last season.

“I think it started when Dean retired and us hiring Don Martindale to kind of take over this young group,” Suggs said Tuesday night when asked about the defense in a question-and-answer teleconference with personal seat license holders. “These young, hungry bulls [can] kind of get back to the way we used to do things and taking the shackles off of us, so to say.”

Earlier in the call, Suggs had mentioned that Martindale has “taken the handcuffs off the guys. Sometimes a player can be shackled by the rules that come with the defense, but I think Wink is just going to allow us to go make plays.”

About a month earlier, at the start of the team’s offseason workout program, veteran safety Eric Weddle said that Martindale is “bringing in a lot of different elements that we haven’t had.”

“For us, as players, it’s exciting,” Weddle said. “It’s a challenge for us to go over new things, new terminology, and things that will give us the ability to react and change on the fly — and not be so blackboard [of a] defense, black and white, this is what we do versus this,” Weddle said. “We are able to, when it gets to the season, change on the fly to put us in the best position possible, which will help us in the long run to be able to finish and be the best defense as possible.”

To be clear, Suggs and Weddle had spoken very highly in the past of Pees, who unretired earlier this offseason to become the defensive coordinator of the Tennessee Titans.

Martindale, though, brings a different style and personality than his predecessor. And if the comments from Suggs and Weddle are any indication, Martindale has also made it a point to give players more flexibility in doing things and making adjustments.

“We’re changing a lot of stuff and adding a lot within the call, within the defense,” Weddle said. “There will be times where I can change with C.J. [Mosley], I could change with the tackle or an end on their responsibilities on what I see from the offense. So, if I see the ends dropping out right here, I could tell them, ‘No, you stay on your blitz path and I’ll cover for you,’ where we didn’t have that ability in the past. It’s able to give the players more responsibility, because we have a lot of guys who are intellectually high. They understand football; they understand the game. Coach is giving us the tools. Obviously, it’s going to take us a long time to be confident in what we can do and what we can change, but it’s going to be great for us.”

The Ravens defense led the league in forced turnovers last season and finished sixth in points allowed per game (18.9). However, the group failed to get a couple of key stops late in games and that figured prominently in the Ravens missing the playoffs for the third consecutive player.

The only player that got significant snaps on defense last year and is not on the roster is veteran defensive back Lardarius Webb, who was released earlier this offseason. The Ravens bring back all their starters and have a host of young players that are expected to step into bigger roles in 2018.

“With a new coordinator, I think all our young guys are going to have a breakout year,” Suggs said. “Just be that fast-moving defense that this city and our fans love. That’s why I’m very excited for the season. It’s going to be fun, especially with this personnel that we have.”

jeff.zrebiec@baltsun.com

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