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Nolan concerned with 'D,' not D.C.

The four-year trip that has taken Mike Nolan from team mutiny to defense nirvana will soon come full circle.

On Saturday night against the Washington Redskins, the Ravens' defensive coordinator brings the NFL's top-ranked group of the preseason to the site of the low point of his career.

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When Washington got off to a rough start in 1999, Nolan was heavily criticized for conservative schemes by Redskins owner Daniel Snyder down to the players. Although the Redskins rebounded to win the NFC East that season, there were no reprieves for Nolan.

These days, Nolan is giving offenses no breaks with an aggressive style that has caused two Pro Bowl quarterbacks to play like rookies this preseason.

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While he contends there's no grudge against the Redskins, it will be an interesting reversal for Nolan, who will be in charge of applying the pressure rather than the one receiving it.

"It's not going to be strange," Nolan said of Saturday's game at FedEx Field in Landover. "You kind of forget because so much time has passed.

"It's not about me. It's about the players. We have preseason goals that we want to accomplish and we'll keep it at that. I'll keep my focus."

So far, the Ravens have not only accomplished many goals but also exceeded them.

The defense has headlined this training camp and has become the main reason league observers believe the Ravens can contend for the AFC North title.

When linebacker Ray Lewis has been manning the middle, the Ravens have limited two of game's premier quarterbacks - Buffalo's Drew Bledsoe and Atlanta's Michael Vick - to 35 yards of total offense in two quarters. The Ravens' starting group has forced five three-and-outs and one interception in seven possessions against Bledsoe and Vick.

Neither quarterback was able to settle in the pocket. Whether it's blitzing a linebacker, cornerback or safety, Nolan has kept offenses thinking about where the rush is coming.

"It's fun because I never know where I'm coming, so they don't know either," outside linebacker Peter Boulware said. "You can't get a bead on us."

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In Atlanta on Saturday, Nolan sent Boulware and Lewis as a tandem off the right edge on the first play. On the second series, he blitzed them from the left side.

Nolan even brought safety Ed Reed tight to the line of scrimmage on a second-and-seven play, a call that factored in Warrick Dunn's run for no gain.

"We're trying to do the things that fit our people," Nolan said. "The fact that you see more pressure on the quarterback is largely due to the fact that we have some guys out there capable of doing those things.

"It's a neat thing to be able to design something for the player to take advantage of. It's trying to put them in position to utilize their strength rather than say, 'This is our defense and we're going to do it this way because that's what I know.' But that's narrow-minded and doesn't allow your players to shine."

The Ravens and Redskins both play in Maryland, but their situations couldn't be farther apart. Washington is on its fifth defensive coordinator in as many years, and Nolan has played a pivotal role in rebuilding the Ravens' defense quicker than most expected.

It wasn't a case of Nolan picking up where popular defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis left off.

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There has been a new cast of players, with only three starters remaining from Lewis' time here.

There has been a new scheme, as the Ravens switched from a 4-3 alignment (four linemen and three linebackers) to a 3-4 look.

And there has been a new style, with Nolan taking time to coach players one-on-one in a drill as well as exchanging ideas on game plans.

"The difference is Mike Nolan is more personal with the guys," Boulware said in comparing Nolan to Lewis. "He gets your input. He wants everyone to be comfortable out there."

It appears Nolan has found his comfort zone as well.

In his first coordinator job, he became a hot commodity from 1993 to 1996 with the New York Giants, coaching linebacker Lawrence Taylor. A couple of years later, his fast track to becoming a head coach was derailed during a disastrous period with the Redskins.

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At 44, Nolan is using lessons from both of those teams with the Ravens.

"You learn so much when you're on top; you learn a lot more when you're on the bottom," Nolan said. "I kind of hit a few extremes. What you learn about being at the top and the bottom is staying in the middle is the best place. If you're disciplined enough to stay in the middle, you can do your job with the best."


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