Ryan easily right man for 'D' at right time

THE BALTIMORE SUN

THE TIMING IS perfect. On a team that had chemistry problems last season, especially on defense, the Ravens have hired line coach Rex Ryan as defensive coordinator.

Ryan is probably the assistant coach most respected by the players.

Can he make some of the problems go away?

Probably. And if he doesn't, look for any potential troublemakers to start disappearing during the next year or two. Ryan has a great knowledge of the game, which is why he has been such a hot commodity the past couple of years.

But his ability to motivate players is what sets him apart. You can pore through Ravens rosters since 1999, and it's hard to find a defensive lineman who would say anything bad about Ryan.

"His rapport with players is awesome, simply awesome, especially for the hardest position to coach," said Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis, who was denied permission by the Ravens to talk to Ryan about the Bengals' vacant defensive coordinator's job. "Defensive linemen are usually temperamental and on the lazy side. But Rex has always been able to get the pulse of each player."

That's what the Ravens need on defense. Coach Brian Billick denied during the season that team chemistry was an issue, but after the last game he acknowledged there was a problem and that he had overestimated the leadership on his team, which is still one of the youngest in the NFL.

Basically, the budding stars wanted more of the spotlight that was owned by the superstars. This created friction and factions in the locker room.

But it will be different next season. Billick is aware of the problem and the Ravens have hired Ryan. The guy can handle Pro Bowl performers or underachievers.

"He's a laid-back, funny guy, always in a good mood," said Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter. "But he can switch it to getting down and dirty. He cuts through the B.S. There isn't any of that political stuff. I haven't spent a lot of time with him, but those D-linemen love him. They play hard all the time for Rex."

If you need proof, go back to the 2000 season. That line consisted of a strange bunch of characters. Tackle Sam Adams changed moods hourly. Fellow tackle Tony Siragusa spent more time on his weekly radio show than on the practice field. Right end Michael McCrary was the game master, often playing with robots or plotting some venture into space, and left end Rob Burnett thought he was as business-oriented as Donald Trump.

Even the backups were a little weird, especially tackle Lional Dalton, who once forgot and left his dog on a treadmill for almost two hours. But on Sundays, the line was tough to beat because it had tough guys led by a tough coach.

The linemen once made a pact that if Ryan ever got fired, they would play out their contracts and then sign with Ryan's new team.

"He can take people from all different backgrounds and get them to play together," McCrary said. "He can relate to anybody. We all cared for him, even Sam, even though it didn't appear that way. He got the best out of Sam when most other coaches would have given up on him.

"Look at that current defensive line," McCrary added. "Most of those guys - the Marques Douglases, Kelly Greggs - wouldn't have made other teams, but they play hard for Rex. If you like your coach, respect him, then you're going to play hard for him."

But it will be different with Ryan as coordinator. Instead of eight, there are possibly 28 players to deal with. Inside linebacker Ray Lewis is one of the league's dominant personalities, and safety Ed Reed is about to move into that ZIP code. Terrell Suggs isn't that far behind, and fellow outside linebacker Peter Boulware is one of the game's best pass rushers.

The Ravens have always been a blue-collar team, and they get consistent to outstanding performances weekly from players like safety Will Demps, Baxter, defensive linemen Douglas and Tony Weaver, and linebackers Adalius Thomas and Ed Hartwell.

Ryan says there will be some changes made in the defense, but still a lot of the same stuff. The Ravens will use multiple fronts, and they'll use some of the 46 defense, which Ryan's father, Buddy, made famous during the 1980s in Chicago. The focal point will still be Lewis, and the forte will be stopping the run.

But a major goal will be getting this team back to working for a common goal.

"First of all, these guys know me, so there is a respect factor from my standpoint and their standpoint," Ryan said. "We will all have the same goal. I want to have not one of the best defenses in the league, but the best, and we all want to win a Super Bowl. The Pro Bowl, any other individual honors and such, are secondary."

Ryan has the type of personality to bring it all together. On first appearance, he comes off as this good, old, jolly big man. But if you look deeper, Ryan is extremely competitive. He can be as ornery and as bold as Buddy.

The players love Ryan's passion.

"When we have those defensive meetings and it's Rex's turn to make his presentation, players start chanting his name, 'Rex, Rex, Rex,' " Baxter said. "You can easily see him getting fired up on game day. When he says, 'Let's go out and kick some ass,' it's like it's coming from one of the players because he is so intense.

"It's just a gift he has. Evidently, it runs in the family."

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