Mattison takes over defense

Street Talk Mattison takes over defense

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OWINGS MILLS — Beyond his white hair, booming voice and the barrel chest of a former wrestling champion and football player, there’s plenty of evidence that Baltimore Ravens first-year defensive coordinator Greg Mattison is no rookie.

Although Mattison has never been a defensive coordinator at the NFL level before and has only coached in the league for one season as a linebackers coach, the 59-year-old carries a rich defensive background.

For more than three decades, Mattison coached in the collegiate ranks while resisting several overtures for NFL jobs. For more than a decade, he was a defensive coordinator at traditional powers such as Florida, Notre Dame and Michigan.

Through that institutional knowledge and his enthusiastic personality, Mattison commands respect. And within the Ravens’ training complex, there’s a lot of confidence in Mattison as he takes over for popular former defensive boss Rex Ryan.

"Coach Mattison is so old-school, and that’s why he relates to so many of us," All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis said. "He’s so old-school it’s ridiculous. That’s what you love about him. He’s like your granddad. It’s cool because he has a great personality about himself, and his humble spirit is overwhelming most of the time.
"Just who he is, his knowledge of the game and how many years he’s been in the game, Greg has been in the game for longer than when most of us were born. Understanding that part of it gives him great credibility, really makes him who he is."

For the Ravens, Mattison’s no-nonsense approach and aggressive 3-4 schemes are expected to closely mirror the go-for-the-throat tactics that Ryan parlayed into becoming the New York Jets’ coach.

"Nothing changes," veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce said. "As long as the players are the same, it’s not going to change that much. We’re still going to run a lot of the same stuff. The schemes are pretty much the same.

"I’ve known him a long time. I’m happy. I think that he’ll be good for us. We all miss Rex. The thing you miss with him is the personality. Football is X’s and O’s, but Greg has a personality, too."

While the swaggering Ryan style is unique, Mattison’s alignments, coverages and emphasis on speed at all positions will appear familiar.

It’s a tough standard, though, for Mattison to match as he inherits a defense that never ranked lower than sixth overall in the NFL on Ryan’s watch.

Whether it’s Ryan, Mike Nolan or Marvin Lewis, the Ravens have never had a slouch running their defense.

"I’d probably be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous," Mattison said. "I’d rather use the word, excitement. I don’t know if I’ve ever been more excited than when I walked in that room for that very first meeting where you’re really the defensive coordinator. And I told the players, the thing that got me so excited is the players in that room. It doesn’t really matter who is standing up in front of you.

"I held up the playbook and said, ‘It doesn’t really matter what this playbook has because as long as we have the attitude and the players that we have we’re going to be successful.’ And the next thing I said was that, ‘All we’re going to do as coaches is try to make them the best in the NFL.’"

Ravens coach John Harbaugh tabbed Mattison, who coached John Offerdahl, Justin Tuck, Anthony Weaver and Jarvis Moss as a few of the 18 NFL draft picks he developed, as Ryan’s replacement on Jan. 26 over secondary coach Chuck Pagano and linebackers coach Vic Fangio.

Mattison smiled at a suggestion that offensive coordinators might have to look up some old college film to study his tendencies since there isn’t an NFL body of work to analyze.

Although Mattison has new ideas, wholesale changes aren’t in the works like when Nolan shifted to the 3-4 base defense from Lewis’ 4-3 set.

“I don’t know how much experimenting there is," Mattison said. “I think our staff and everybody has done enough research and knows our players well enough that we know what we want to do. Now, we’ve just got to tweak it the way we want to do it.”

Mattison has already won an important endorsement in the locker room in Lewis, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"It just so happens Mattison and I are really close,” Lewis said. “It’s been a smooth transition. He and I think a lot alike."

Mattison is taking over a defense that includes Lewis, free safety Ed Reed, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.

His primary challenges will be replacing linebacker Bart Scott with either Tavares Gooden or Jameel McClain and getting new starting cornerback Domonique Foxworth up to speed, and he’ll do it without trying to reinvent the defensive wheel.

“My approach has never changed,” Mattison said. “I’ve never believed it was a coordinator that did this or did that. It’s about what players you have and their attitude is and how they buy into it.

"I believe as long as guys like Ray Lewis, Kelly Gregg and Trevor Pryce have all got your back, it’s about organizing it and letting them go. . . . If you don’t do your job like that, you fail a lot of good players. I never want to do that."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.
Photo by Sabina Moran.

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Aaron Wilson

About Aaron Wilson

Aaron Wilson covers the NFL for National Football Post as well as the Baltimore Ravens for The Carroll County Times and He has previously covered the Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans and has covered the NFL since 1997.  He has won several regional writing awards, including, most recently, Best Sports News Story for the state of Maryland in voting conducted by the Associated Press managing editors.  More from Aaron Wilson


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