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OWINGS MILLS — A familiar scenario could be unfolding for the Baltimore Ravensâ€™ coaching staff. Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, the architect of the Ravensâ€™ top-ranked, unpredictable defense, could emerge as an NFL head-coaching candidate.
Three former Ravens defensive assistants — Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio and Mike Nolan — are now NFL head coaches.
There are two current vacancies with the Atlanta Falcons and Arizona Cardinals. Although Ryan hasnâ€™t been scheduled for an interview as Atlanta and Arizona have already been lining up meetings with other job prospects, there could potentially be even more openings in the near future.
New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin, Cleveland Browns coach Romeo Crennel, Oakland Raiders coach Art Shell are reportedly on the hot seat. Plus, Miami Dolphins coach Nick Saban is strongly considering the University of Alabama job and Pittsburgh Steelers coach Bill Cowher is expected to retire.
Ravens coach Brian Billick gave Ryan, the son of former Philadelphia Eagles and Cardinals head coach Buddy Ryan, a ringing endorsement Tuesday.
â€œI think heâ€™s as ready to be a head coach as any coach Iâ€™ve been around,â€ Billick said. â€œWe would love to keep Rex, but you want to do everything you can to help someone progress, and weâ€™ll certainly be as helpful to Rex as we can in that capacity.
â€œI think one of the reasons weâ€™ve been able to attract good people here is because they recognize that weâ€™re an organization thatâ€™s going to nurture and help them advance in their career.â€
If the Ravens lost Ryan, thereâ€™s no clear-cut successor although special consultant Vic Fangio has coordinator experience with the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Carolina Panthers and New Orleans Saints. Also, fiery former Baltimore secondary coach Donnie Henderson is available after being fired from his defensive coordinator spot with the Detroit Lions.
Billick recalled how Dennis Green, who was fired Monday by the Cardinals, supported his bid to become the Ravens’ coach in 1999 after a record-setting stint as the Minnesota Vikingsâ€™ offensive coordinator.
â€œItâ€™s probably tough for Steve Bisciotti to get used to,â€ Billick said. â€œThat was one thing he commented on when he first got into it: â€˜Let me get this right? You develop great coaches so we can give them to our competitors. In my business, weâ€™d just open another division or another section or something.â€™â€
TRAINING ROOM: Billick forecasted that the team should have all of its injured players back for its second-round playoff game. That would include left offensive tackle Jonathan Ogden, who has missed the past two games with a hyperextended toe, along with right offensive guard Keydrick Vincent, who was held out of the regular-season finale with a groin injury.
â€œI think we are relatively healthy,â€ Billick said. â€œWe should have everybody available to us.â€
DIMINISHING RETURNS: Rookie return specialist Cory Ross is averaging only 3.3 yards per punt return, and fumbled against Buffalo with special-teams ace Gary Stills recovering the loose football.
In place of B.J. Sams, whoâ€™s out for the year with a fractured ankle, Ross is averaging 21.6 yards on kickoff returns.
â€œWeâ€™re not quite getting the explosive returns,â€ Billick acknowledged. â€œI think heâ€™s handled the kickoff returns very, very well and punt returns are solid. Youâ€™d like to get a little more out of that, I think heâ€™s getting better.â€
RECOGNIZED: Ravens cornerback Chris McAlister has been named by the NFL as its Defensive Player of the Week following his pivotal 31-yard interception return for a touchdown against the Bills.
QUICK HITS: Billick blamed the majority of the four illegal procedure penalties on referees failing to recognize the Billsâ€™ defense calling out signals to confuse the offensive line. â€œThey did it three times, which was irritating,â€ Billick said. â€œYou bring it to the officialsâ€™ attention, but thereâ€™s nothing you can do about it if theyâ€™re not going to hear it. Youâ€™re not allowed to interfere with the snap count of the quarterback. Itâ€™s illegal.â€ â€¦ The Jacksonville Jaguars didnâ€™t qualify for the postseason, and Billick sounded pleased to not be potentially facing them.
â€œJacksonville is a very good football team that would have matched up well with us,â€ Billick said. â€œCertain teams we will match up in certain areas. Other teams we will have to be mindful of the matchup they have with us.â€ …. Billick praised late-season acquisition Alex Bannister, a 6-foot-5 wide receiver who excels on special teams and recorded two tackles in kick coverage against Buffalo. â€œWeâ€™re lucky to have a Bannister show up, he really is an elite special-teamer,â€ Billick said. â€¦ Billick deflected comparisons with the dominant 2000 defense that spearheaded the Ravensâ€™ lone Super Bowl title. â€œIf you want to [anger] my younger daughter, bring up her sister and the strengths that she has,â€ Billick said. â€œWeâ€™ve got a different coordinator, different styles. Yes, we are proud of the heritage, but they are their own group.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times in Westminster, Maryland