Good defense, in the eyes of Baltimore Ravens assistant coach Marvin Lewis, starts with a plan and a personality.
Lewis, in his first year as a defensive coordinator, left Pittsburgh in February after four successful seasons as a linebackers coach to take on a major project in Baltimore: Turn around a defense that, over its final two years in Cleveland, went from one of the AFC's best to one of its least dependable.
The road to recovery starts today, when the Ravens open a two-week minicamp. It will feature little action, but much in the way of teaching the schemes and philosophy that will set the tone to be continued when training camp opens in July.
"This weekend, we'll start to form the personality we'll need to make the plays we have to make," Lewis said.
The team also will get its first look at its latest infusion of talent. For the first three days, the team's 1996 draft choices will participate in the minicamp. The Ravens placed a high premium on defense, as two of their first three picks were linebacker Ray Lewis (first round) and cornerback DeRon Jenkins (second).
Marvin Lewis' mission? Get this defense to play more like the unit that led the NFL in scoring defense two years ago (204 points allowed), when the Browns went 11-5. Make last year's 5-11 showing, when the Browns gave up 356 points (sixth-highest in the AFC) and 353 yards per game (fourth-highest), a distant memory.
In Pittsburgh, the Steelers built one of the NFL's top defenses by using a 3-4 set featuring the pass rushing of outside linebackers Greg Lloyd and Kevin Greene.
In Baltimore, Lewis said he is committed to the 4-3 set, since the Ravens have an established front four in tackles Dan Footman and Larry Webster and ends Anthony Pleasant and Rob Burnett, who played in his first Pro Bowl last season.
"The starting point of everything is stopping the run. That has to be our No. 1 focus," Lewis said. "From that point, then it's easier to pressure the quarterback. That's how we got better in Pittsburgh, building a defense that could stop the run. Once you do that, you get sacks and you upset the other team's coach by knocking down his quarterback all the time. You make it a lot easier to play defense."
Cleveland allowed 114.1 rushing yards per game last year, sixth-worst in the AFC. Opponents typically had too many short-yardage situations on second and third downs. Part of the problem was Cleveland's inconsistent linebacker play, with the exception of veteran middle man Pepper Johnson, a two-time Pro Bowl pick. He will be counted upon again to stabilize the middle.
The Ravens' defensive fortunes will depend a lot on the contributions of linebackers Craig Powell and Ray Lewis. Powell, a second-year player coming back from a serious knee injury, could give Baltimore another potent pass rusher. Lewis did not rush the quarterback much at Miami, but few college linebackers patrolled the line better. Baltimore hopes Lewis can contribute quality time in the middle and outside.
The secondary features former Pro Bowl safety Eric Turner, who is coming back from a back injury.
Expect the Ravens to do a variety of things out of their 4-3, like blitz from unpredictable angles. Look for them to drop linemen into pass coverage to cross up opposing blocking schemes. Marvin Lewis wants his players to be versatile and flexible.
"Marvin will drop linemen more than most people do. He'll give you a lot more different looks than most people will," said head coach Ted Marchibroda. "He is very knowledgeable, sees the big picture and has a great deal of common sense. This is going to be a Lewis textbook two weeks."
Lewis wants the defense to abide by a formula. He said if you give up fewer than 300 yards per game, hold offenses to under 4.7 yards a snap and get off the field more than 65 percent of the time after third down, you will go to the playoffs.
The road to the playoffs starts with a weekend of "all business," said Ray Lewis.
"There are two kinds of trips you take, the business kind and the pleasure kind. This is a business trip," Lewis said. "This will be a learning experience."
The teaching is only beginning, said Marvin Lewis.
"You can't leave any stone unturned. You can't let any bad step go uncorrected," he said. "You've got to critique, and do it in a corrective manner. The walls, the barriers, have to come down. When the players start correcting their own mistakes, that's when I'll know we've arrived."
NOTE: The Ravens are negotiating with Towson State and Western Maryland College, the two finalists for this year's training camp site. A decision probably will not be reached until next week.
Pub Date: 4/26/96
Where: Owings Mills
When: Today through May 10
Who: Rookies and veterans through Sunday, then just veterans
Viewing: Not open to public