Now calling the shots

The Baltimore Sun

With a 53-man roster that resembles the one they took into the 2007 season, the Ravens are hoping that a key ingredient in turning around a 5-11 record will be the way new coach John Harbaugh and his staff have approached each practice during the past few months.

That ingredient - the attention to detail and the way it is taught - is at the core of the men Harbaugh brought together shortly after replacing Brian Billick. The assistants come from varied backgrounds but essentially carry the same message.

It can be found in the way John Matsko tries to mold one of the youngest offensive lines in the NFL, or the way linebackers coach Greg Mattison, who has spent most of the past 37 years at the college level, works with team's most veteran group.

"Attention to detail to me is doing the little things right," Harbaugh said during training camp. "It doesn't mean you get them right all the time, but you're trying to."

It has been the most noticeable difference in the nearly eight months since Harbaugh was hired, starting with the offseason workouts and organized team activities at the Ravens' complex in Owings Mills and continuing through the two-a-days at McDaniel College in Westminster.

Whether it pays immediate dividends will be seen when the Ravens open the season Sunday, but it should certainly be evident as the weeks and months unfold. Most seem to be buying into what the new staff is teaching - and preaching.

"As a young player, you need that," veteran wide receiver Derrick Mason said. "Sometimes you might think it's redundant or monotonous. At the end, you really appreciate the time and effort they [the coaches] put in. They want to make sure that when we get out on the field, we're in the best position to win a football game."

It is important in all aspects of this rebuilding team, nowhere more evident than along the offensive line.

That is why Harbaugh wanted Matsko, who spent 18 years working his way up the ladder of Division I-A football before moving to the NFL in 1992. His longest - and most celebrated - stint came during a seven-year run with the St. Louis Rams, where the offensive line was a huge part of "The Greatest Show on Turf."

"When you come into a situation like this, you want to set an attitude," Matsko, 57, said during the spring. "We want to have a positive attitude. We want to have an aggressive attitude. You want to lay a foundation on the fundamentals and techniques that we're going to use on Sunday afternoon. And you want to create an identity. Who are we going to be and how are we going to be remembered?"

A difficult job has been made tougher by training camp injuries to offensive tackles Jared Gaither and Adam Terry, but Jason Brown has seen the impact Matsko has made. Given the makeup of the line, it was easy for Matsko to get his point across - sometimes loudly.

"All of us are young, very enthusiastic and willing to do anything, so we're very malleable," said Brown, in his fourth year and moving back to his natural position at center after playing guard. "You can't teach an old dog new tricks, but there are a lot of tricks that they're teaching us, being young offensive linemen."

Chuck Pagano, the team's new secondary coach, has a different job.

He is working with a group that has Pro Bowl experience in safety Ed Reed and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, as well as youth in third-year safety Dawan Landry and rookie safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura.

"What I've tried to do is take a look back and identify some things that we can get better at, with old and young," said Pagano, 47, who coached Reed at the University of Miami and reserve cornerback Fabian Washington with the Oakland Raiders. "I don't care how long you've played in this game, it still goes back to blocking and tackling and fundamentals."

NEW COACHES

* John Harbaugh, head coach: 2001 Special Teams Coach of the Year with Philadelphia

* Cam Cameron, offensive coordinator: In 2006, San Diego led NFL in points

* Jerry Rosburg, special teams: In 2005, Cleveland special teams scored three ways

* Jim Hostler, wide receivers: Helped develop Santana Moss while with Jets

* Hue Jackson, quarterbacks: Helped develop future Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer at Southern California

* John Matsko, offensive line: Instrumental with Pro Bowl players Orlando Pace and Adam Timmerman in St. Louis

* Greg Mattison, linebackers: Co-defensive coordinator at Florida when Gators won national championship in 2006 season

* Wilbert Montgomery, running backs: Two-time Pro Bowl selection mentored Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson in St. Louis

* Chuck Pagano, secondary: In 2001 in Cleveland, secondary had 28 of team-record 33 interceptions

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