Ravens, Ryan set to square off

Street Talk Ravens, Ryan set to square off

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The bellowing voice, the colorful language, the imposing coach swaggering up and down the football field, the ultra-aggressive blitz packages, the Ralph Kramden comedy repertoire and the jaw full of chewing tobacco have returned to Baltimore.


Outspoken New York Jets coach Rex Ryan, the popular former Ravens defensive coordinator, is back in town for tonight’s nationally televised preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium.


And Ryan’s larger-than-life personality and presence, including his criticism of the Ravens for not giving him the head coaching job that went to John Harbaugh and for giving retired defensive end Michael McCrary’s No. 99 jersey to rookie Paul Kruger, have added considerable spice to a routine exhibition game.


"To tell you the truth, I think it’s going to be more than just bragging rights,” Ravens running back Willis McGahee said. "People want to go after each other this game just because you’ve got Rex on one end and coach Harbaugh on the other. So, it’s going to be quite interesting.”


After spending a decade in Baltimore and being passed over for numerous head coaching jobs around the league possibly because of his girth and also because some corporate-minded owners were wary of whether Ryan was a carbon copy of his father, Buddy Ryan, who feuded with owners in the past and once slugged Kevin Gilbride in the face during a game, Ryan is now in charge of his own football team.


And he’s thrilled about the opportunity to show his former colleagues what the Jets are all about following a training camp filled with brawls and a controversial offseason where Ryan has traded barbs with Miami Dolphins linebacker Channing Crowder and declared that he’s not going to kiss New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick’s rings.


"The atmosphere is going to be awesome out there because I’m coming back," Ryan told New York reporters. "You’re playing against a great football team and one that’s going to be great in the New York Jets, so I think that’s going to be a great matchup. You got myself and John, two great buddies going against each other.


"You’re like, ‘Wow, this is a preseason game,’ but it’s going to feel special. I know it is. It’s not just going to feel special to me. It’s going to feel special for all our guys."


From the Ravens’ standpoint, they’re taking the approach that virtually nothing has changed on defense since Ryan’s departure.


Ray Lewis is still the middle linebacker. Free safety Ed Reed is still the instinctive centerfielder picking off passes. And massive defensive tackle Haloti Ngata is still collapsing the line of scrimmage.


One wrinkle that’s potentially afoot with the defense is toying with some 4-3 looks as a base defense, which is what the Ravens used to employ under former defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.


The Ravens have been primarily running a 3-4 for the past seven years, but using a 4-3 would allow Lewis to operate as a traditional middle linebacker shielded by big defensive tackles and it would get more defensive linemen on the field.


Defensive end Trevor Pryce emphasized that the Ravens are still running a 3-4 as their base defense except when Kruger, who’s filling in for injured Pro Bowl outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, or Suggs decide to put their hands down on the ground as a defensive end.


"That’s a personal preference," Pryce said. "If it’s Suggs out there and he puts his hand on the ground, we look like a four-man front. If it’s Paul out there and he stands up, we look like a three-man front. So, really, it just depends on whatever that guy wants to do is what we look like. Really, it confuses nobody except for them."


The Ravens promoted linebackers coach Greg Mattison to Ryan’s old post, and Mattison has kept everything intact for the most part. He’s not regarded to be as prone to blitzing as Ryan even though he was pretty aggressive in sending extra players after the Washington Redskins’ quarterbacks during a 23-0 shutout last week.


"At this point, we’ve made the transition," Reed said. "I’m happy for Rex. I love him. I hate to lose him, but I’m glad he got the job. It was well-deserved. It’s going to be fun. It’s a student versus teacher thing, but only to a degree.


"I know how Rex is. He loves this game. He made the transition to being a Jet from a Raven, and I know he’s got to protect his job at the end of the day. He’s going to want his boys to play ball.”


Ryan took linebacker Bart Scott and safety Jim Leonhard with him to New York as well as former Ravens assistant coaches Mike Pettine and Dennis Thurman.


And the Ravens are extremely happy with the work of Mattison, a first-year NFL defensive coordinator who ran defenses previously in the college ranks at Florida, Notre Dame and Michigan.


"This is not Greg’s first time around the block," Harbaugh said. "He’s been a defensive coordinator for years, and that’s showing up. I think the players feel it.


“If we don’t stop people like we want, that’s going to be on us, players, coaches, all of us together. But I think we’ve done a good job in camp and we have a chance to be a really good defense."


Added Mattison: "Rex Ryan is a tremendous football coach. I had a great opportunity to work with him, I learned a great deal from him, and all I try to do each day is try to do the best job I can as coordinator and get these players to play the best they can."


Although Ryan is the king of the one-liners and Mattison is a more low-key guy, Pryce emphasized that there are some parallels between the two coaches.


From a personality standpoint, though, there’s a clear difference.

"I’ve known [Mattison] a long time, what you see is what you get with him," Pryce said. "There’s not going to be a lot of funny stuff and quips and all that. .. He’s just as aggressive."


Meanwhile, Scott is looking forward to this game after spending seven seasons in Baltimore. He expects the Ravens to display a little extra edge in this contest because of Ryan.


"I will see some familiar faces, but when the clock strikes, I have no friends," Scott said. "I’m sure they’re out there to prove it was more or less them, not Rex’s system. But they’re running the same system."


With Ryan igniting a minor controversy over the McCrary jersey before later apologizing, the Ravens have resisted being drawn into a verbal battle with their former defensive boss.


Nowadays, Ryan practically owns the back pages of the New York tabloids with his bombastic statements. And they’ll probably continue to love him, at least until he loses a game or two.


"I think it means a lot to be going against a Rex Ryan-coached team, we think the world of Rex," Harbaugh said. "We kind of know what they’re building there and respect it. We recognize it when we see it. We’re looking forward to playing them; it’s going against someone you really care about."


Ryan arrives with a chip on his big shoulders, eager to prove that he shouldn’t have been passed over. He still has the self-confidence from that day when he parked his red pickup truck in the designated head coach’s space when he showed up to interview with Ravens team owner Steve Bisciotti and other team officials after Brian Billick was fired.


Ryan wound up being retained as the defensive coordinator under Harbaugh and was also named assistant head coach.


"I want them to know that my guys are playing like Jets and we’re to be taken seriously," Ryan said. "The fact that I got passed over for the coaching job there, does that mean anything? Maybe it does. I will always think it was BS. I always thought I was the right guy for the job."


Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.

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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 Ravens24x7.com. 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. 

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