OWINGS MILLS — Dean Pees doesn’t have the heft, stature or swagger of Rex Ryan, or the animated, fiery style of Chuck Pagano.
The Baltimore Ravens’ latest defensive coordinator doesn’t lack the voice of his predecessors, though, bellowing out instructions with plenty of volume and authority.
"You can probably tell my voice carries out there on the field quite a bit," Pees said Wednesday following an organized team activity practice at team headquarters. "I don’t really need signals. I could probably yell it in."
Known for his cerebral approach and meticulous film study, Pees, 62, was promoted from linebackers coach when Pagano took over the Indianapolis Colts.
Now, the former New England Patriots defensive boss inherits the NFL’s third-ranked defense from a year ago.
Pees has already made it clear that he won’t be making major changes to an aggressive 3-4 scheme, but he’s leaving his own specific imprint on the defense.
"Dean is distinctive," coach John Harbaugh said. "If you talk to the players, they will tell you that. He definitely has his own style. He is forceful, obviously. He is very confident.
"He has been doing this a long time. He is really creative. He is one of the better teachers I have ever seen as a coach. Obviously, the proof is going to be in the pudding, but we are excited about where we are going on defense.”
As the sixth defensive coordinator in franchise history, following Pagano, Greg Mattison, Ryan, Mike Nolan and Marvin Lewis, Pees is immediately facing several challenges.
Most notably, the defending AFC North champions could be without the services of NFL Defensive Player of the Year outside linebacker Terrell Suggs for at least a major portion of, if not the entire season due to a partially torn Achilles tendon.
Plus, All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, 37, and All-Pro free safety Ed Reed, 33, are another year older and coming off seasons where they dealt with injuries.
"As a coach, you’ve got to go out there and coach the guys you have here," Pees said. "We would like the situation with Terrell to be different, but unfortunately it’s not. It’s not the first time in my career we’ve had a good player miss time or a whole season. I remember in New England when they told me Tedy Bruschi had a stroke.
"It wasn’t the exact words I wanted to hear about my starting linebacker, but we put in somebody else: Mike Vrabel. I’m not saying he was great at it, but we had schemes and things we could do until Bruschi came back. It will be the same thing with Terrell. We’ll have guys in place, and we’ll do things that we need to do until he gets back."
In the case of Bruschi seven years ago when Pees was coaching the Patriots’ linebackers, New England didn’t defend its Super Bowl crown. They did win the AFC East division title again.
"What you do is you’ve still got to install the defense," Pees said. "You’ve still got to find out who can play the position. I don’t think that we’re not going to show up next fall. So, the thing of it is somebody’s got to step up. Somebody’s got to take his spot. You try to find out who’s going to be the best fit at that position."
Pees is breaking in two new starting outside linebackers in rookie Courtney Upshaw and Paul Kruger and a new starting left defensive end with the departures of Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding.
So far, Kruger has been occupying Suggs’ spot at rush linebacker with Upshaw lining up at Johnson’s old strongside linebacker position.
The Ravens are also evaluating former second-round pick Sergio Kindle and special-teams standout Albert McClellan at outside linebacker.
"I’ve been very, very pleased with Kruger," Pees said. "Albert has done a good job outside. Sergio has shown a lot of improvement, and Courtney Upshaw has been doing a good job."
Nonetheless, replacing Suggs’ production of 14 sacks and seven forced fumbles is going to be a tough obstacle to overcome.
"It’s just like last year when we lost Ray for four games," Pees said. "Did we change the package? Some. You tweak it a little bit, you don’t really change it. You’ve got enough stuff hopefully within your package that if something happens to somebody you can go to somebody else that’ll really kind of play to their strengths."
Pees was the Patriots’ defensive coordinator for four seasons, a successful run where the Patriots were the lone team in the league to rank in the top 10 in scoring defense each year.
A former head coach at Kent State, Pees left New England following a 33-14 playoff loss to the Ravens where running back Ray Rice ran roughshod over the Patriots for 159 yards.
Pees has consistently rumors that he was fired or that he left because of a medical condition that flared up when he had a bad reaction to asthma medicine.
“I decided not to go back there,” Pees said earlier this year when he was promoted to defensive coordinator. “My contract was up. I didn’t renew my contract. I was not fired, and I decided to explore other avenues. And this was a great avenue to explore.”
Pees is expected to tinker with the defense, but major changes aren’t afoot other than different personnel in the front seven.
A year ago, the Ravens ranked second in rushing defense as they allowed 92.6 yards on the ground per game, fourth in passing defense, allowing 196.3 yards a game, first in red-zone defense and third in scoring defense as they surrendered just 16.6 points per contest.
So, an overhaul isn’t in the offing.
"It’s a system that has been proven, it’s worked," Pees said. "So, I’m not going to come in and try to change that system. Am I going to try to put my personal touch on it? Yeah, I probably will without even knowing I’m putting my personal touch on it.
"I just think everybody calls a game differently, everybody sees a game differently, but yet, it’s still going to be some of the same calls. Are we going to call them in the exact same time? Hey, I don’t know. Everybody’s got to put their own niche on it.”
Pees has quickly made a believer out of the Ravens’ defenders.
He consistently has the correct answer at his fingertips, something players have taken note of.
"He’s so knowledgeable, so crafty," starting cornerback Cary Williams said. "He definitely brings another element to our game as far as what we’re going to do on Sundays, the pressure and some of the zone coverages. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens this year and how well we’re going to flourish in the system.
"I don’t feel sorry for him and I don’t think Dean feels sorry for himself, either. I think he sees it as an opportunity of a lifetime. We all see it as that. With the Patriots, he made do with what he had. We can’t look back on those negative things, we have to push forward."