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Defensive assistants turn on energy

When trying to locate the Ravens' two new defensive assistants, the best advice is to follow the action.

Jeff FitzGerald, who handles the outside linebackers, routinely chases players 15 yards downfield to talk about correcting mistakes. Then, off on the sideline, secondary coach Johnnie Lynn is engrossed in another marathon chat session with his defensive backs.

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FitzGerald and Lynn represent the only major changes to the Ravens' defense, which returns all of its starters from the NFL's third-ranked group. But based on their coaching styles, they have already clicked with the players midway through the second full-team minicamp.

"They both have a great deal of energy in their own way," defensive coordinator Mike Nolan said. "As you know, we're not a low-energy group. So they're a great match for our players."

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FitzGerald, 44, only knows how to coach in fast forward, and he wants his linebackers to play the same way.

If a linebacker lets a tight end sneak past him for a big pass play, FitzGerald will sprint downfield behind them to get the error fixed right away. Likewise, if a player knocks down a pass in the middle of the field, he will be the first to run over and give him a congratulatory slap on the back of the helmet.

"The method to the madness is this: I love what I do and I get excited when I get on the field," said FitzGerald, who coached linebackers the past three years in Arizona before Cardinals coach Dave McGinnis and his staff were fired at the end of the regular season.

"I don't have to drink 20 cups of coffee to get psyched up. Why I do it that way is I want to coach the guys as much as I can. I want to get feedback while things are happening. So on that next play, we're not making the same mistake again. I want to take my coaching to them."

There is a price for his over-the-top style.

He has undergone four surgeries on his right knee because of wear and tear. His most recent one came last year.

"When the knee gets to the point where I can't run around," he said, "it's time for another surgery."

His pet project is the development of Terrell Suggs from a college defensive end to an NFL linebacker. FitzGerald has stressed fundamentals to the former first-round pick and said he is "optimistic" that Suggs will make the transition to an every-down defender.

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"The one thing about coach is when you feel like you don't have any more energy," Suggs said, "he's going to make sure you find it out on the field."

Lynn, 47, shows that same passion off the field.

During team drills, he is on the sideline constantly quizzing his players about different situations, receiver alignments and defensive signals. His underlying goal is to instill a mind-set that says if you get beat, you need to focus on making a play the next time.

"What I think we do the best is we communicate and talk," Lynn said. "I'm kind of loud sometimes and I kind of talk too much sometimes. But I'm always positive."

Lynn comes to the Ravens after two seasons as defensive coordinator of the New York Giants, who finished ninth in overall defense in 2002 and 22nd last season.

He replaced longtime assistant Donnie Henderson, who left to become the defensive coordinator of the New York Jets. In comparison, Lynn's demeanor is regarded as more easygoing than Henderson.

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"He's a player's coach," cornerback Gary Baxter said. "He's one of the coaches that will listen to you first and see why you're doing things a certain way. Then, he'll coach you up. He's a coach you'll go out and play hard for."

And Lynn is pushing for harder play. Despite a secondary that finished fourth in pass defense and produced two Pro Bowl performers, Lynn said there is room for improvement.

"I think it can be top shelf in this league," Lynn said. "Let's not keep them at that same level but take them higher. The essence of it is that you want to put that ring on. So, we need to be No. 1 in pass defense."

NOTES: Backup running back Musa Smith was visited by his brother, John Smith, a soldier who was injured in Iraq. A corporal in the Marines, John Smith survived a three-week coma from a mortar blast on April 11 in Fallujah, and later his right leg was amputated at the knee. "I feel good. I'm alive so I don't have any complaints," said John Smith, 21, who was awarded the Purple Heart. ... The Ravens will unveil an all-black uniform (jersey and pants) today that will be worn only for their nationally televised Nov. 7 home game against Cleveland. ... General manager Ozzie Newsome will speak at the National Association of Athletic Trainers today at the Baltimore Convention Center.


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