Ravens give nod to 4-3 defense Players like freedom new alignment offers

April 30, 1996|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Baltimore Ravens defensive end Rob Burnett and cornerback Antonio Langham have found themselves in strange territory lately, but both are starting to cover some common ground with defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis.

The Ravens have spent the past four days implementing a new 4-3 defensive scheme, and the players seem to like the freedom that goes along with it.

The Ravens will spend the next nine days with a daily one-hour, walk-through practice, and the rest of the time will be used for meetings and weight-training sessions.

Ravens coach Ted Marchibroda is expected to end the minicamp May 8, allowing the players time to make living arrangements for summer training camp that opens in mid-July.

"Right now, I don't see any major problems with the [defensive] scheme," said Langham. "It's going to take some time before we're fully comfortable with it, but we have a lot of veteran guys and we'll adjust."

The key to the defense is to put pressure on the quarterback and disrupt the offensive scheme with penetration at the line of scrimmage.

The Ravens' defensive linemen like the philosophy. The tackles have spent the past five years wrestling with offensive linemen, trying to keep them off the linebackers.

"The biggest difference is that we have freedom up front," said defensive tackle Dan Footman.

"We're now spending less time hugging 300-pound linemen," said Burnett. "It's a scheme I'm going to enjoy because we're now using more of our athletic ability."

Lewis wants his players to be flexible, and that sometimes means Burnett and Footman will be dropping into pass coverage.

The 6-foot-4, 280-pound Burnett didn't exactly look like Deion Sanders backpedaling into pass coverage yesterday.

Footman laughed at Burnett, but Footman's time will come later this summer.

"I heard we have a coverage where we drop off into the curl rout," said Footman, 6-5 and 290 pounds. "I heard it's going to be put in this summer. Maybe it's one of those plays we'll have, but never use."

If it's there, then it probably will be used. Lewis likes a lot of formations and different defensive looks. He'll blitz cornerbacks as much as he will safeties.

But sometimes that means leaving the secondary exposed one on one.

"Basically, it's the same defense with a more aggressive style and different terminology," said Lang- ham. "I think it's a good system, one where you can mix it up a lot. We played a lot of zone last year."

According to Lewis, the team has put in only half of the playbook thus far. Another small portion will be added by the end of camp.

The Ravens need to improve on last year's defense that allowed 353 yards per game and 356 points. Two bonuses are that Pro Bowl safety Eric Turner, returning from back surgery, and outside linebacker Craig Powell, recovering from knee surgery, have reported no problems yet.

"Everything seems to be coming together very well. I'm pleased," said Lewis. "We're still making some mistakes, but I'm hoping to clean them up in the next two weeks."

NOTE: Ravens director of operations Ozzie Newsome said it is doubtful the team will work out a deal to sign New York Jets free-agent tight end Johnny Mitchell, but the team is still in the running for Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro outside linebacker Kevin Greene.

Pub Date: 4/30/96

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