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Peter Schmuck: New coordinator Pagano could restore aggression to Ravens' defense

Since the day Chuck Pagano was named the new defensive coordinator of the Ravens, inquiring minds have wanted to know just where his defensive philosophy might fit into the organization's coaching continuum.

Will he channel the passion of Rex Ryan and breathe new fire into a defensive unit that did not strike enough fear into opposing quarterbacks last year? Or will he mirror the more measured approach of immediate predecessor Greg Mattison?

We've all got our suspicions, but we probably won't find out for sure until he unleashes the defensive unit against Ben Roethlisberger and the Pittsburgh Steelers in the regular season opener on Sept. 11 at M&T Bank Stadium.

"I think coach has his own swag to him," linebacker Terrell Suggs said. "I think this is our first Italian defensive coordinator, so it's going to be fun. We like the aggressiveness the coach portrays at times, and we like the smartness he portrays at times. I think he's got his own swag and his own two shoes, and I think he's going to be great for the city of Baltimore."

Not that Suggs or anybody else had any problem with Mattison, who left after the 2010 season to assume a similar role at the University of Michigan, but the Ravens set a franchise low with just 27 sacks last year and — at times — seemed too satisfied to rush three guys and settle into coverage.

In that respect, look for Pagano to be more like Ryan, who never met a blitzing opportunity he didn't like, but don't look for Pagano to be Rex, or anyone other than himself.

Pagano said during his introductory news conference in January that he was going to pick up where both Ryan and Mattison left off, but he clearly is his own coach, and he seems determined to raise the level of intensity on the defensive side of the ball.

"My philosophy is: Let's go out and wreak havoc," he said at the time, "and play defense the way they've played defense for many years around here."

If it sounds like he's planning to be more aggressive in his play calling, that should be welcome news to Ravens fans who felt last year's team didn't quite live up to the Ravens' predatory defensive tradition.

"That's just me being me," Pagano said Tuesday. "That's always been the way I've coached. It's kind of my personality. That stuff is contagious. We try to take an upbeat positive approach with these guys. Try to put them in the best possible position to be successful."

It's not hard to see why head coach John Harbaugh chose to promote his secondary coach when Mattison moved on. Pagano is cut from the Harbaugh mold, a football lifer whose father was a high school coach and who has worked his way up through both the college and professional ranks to earn this opportunity.

"I grew up on the sidelines; my sisters were cheerleaders; my little brother played for my father; I played for my father; it's really all I knew," he said. "Coming out of college, I got a degree in business, and he tried to talk me out of coaching because he told me what a bad life it was and the hours that you spend. I said, 'I don't know anything else. This is all I know.' So, every morning I wake up, I feel really, really lucky and really blessed to be able to walk in the Castle and coach these guys."

The transition has been seamless for a couple of reasons. Pagano has coached under both Ryan and Mattison during his three years on Harbaugh's staff. He also coached at the University of Miami back in the 1990s when Ray Lewis and (later) Ed Reed were cornerstones of the Hurricanes' defense.

"I was a [graduate assistant] at the University of Miami in 1986 for Jimmy Johnson, then I went back with Butch Davis in 1995, and that was Ray's junior year and I had one year with him," Pagano said. "Who'd a thunk it back in 1995 that I'd be sitting here with this opportunity. Ed came along a little bit later, but that's a long, long time ago. And now to be sitting here and have this opportunity is just a humbling, humbling experience."

That may be, but Pagano is no shrinking violet when it comes to demanding the most from his players. He knows the Ravens have a defensive legacy to protect, and he's not going to shy away from the expectations that come along with the D-coordinator title.

"I told them, when people put on our tape, it ought to look like we've got 13, 14, 15 guys out there," Pagano said. "We've got a smart football team — a team that doesn't beat itself, that plays with great fundamentals and technique, that plays with passion. The best tackling team in the NFL. The most physical. Can just dominate people. When we walk out of the tunnel and out of that locker room, we expect to shut people out and play great defense."

We'll settle for that.

Listen to Peter Schmuck when he hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and wbal com.

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