Marvin Lewis makes policy shift for better

July 26, 2002|By MIKE PRESTON

CARLISLE, Pa. - The old, familiar walk is still there, the one where his head rocks from side to side like a bobblehead doll. He has on a baseball cap and the vintage plastic jacket, even though the on-field temperature is 116 degrees.

Right before every snap, he strikes the familiar poses, either watching with his arms folded, or bending over with his hands on his knees. His son, Marcus, is always near.

It must be training camp, and this must be Marvin Lewis. Only this year, after six seasons with the Ravens, Lewis is at Dickinson College as the defensive coordinator of the Washington Redskins.

"I went to see the Ravens coaches Monday before heading up here. I wished them good luck," said Lewis, who had the league's best defense the past two seasons. "You go to your locker, and it's certainly different. But once you get dressed, it's the same."

Lewis will eventually succeed with the Redskins, too. It may take a year or two because his gap-control, pressure-oriented-style defense requires a lot of discipline. But Lewis, 43, is an excellent teacher, and he continues to improve as a coach.

It's interesting to watch how Lewis has already begun to handle the situation in Washington. When he first came to Baltimore from Pittsburgh as the former Steelers linebackers coach in 1996, his biggest problem was dealing with players.

He basically trashed the system the Ravens used when they were in Cleveland, and reminded his new team how the Steelers did things in Pittsburgh. That's fine, if you coach in the NFC, but downright stupid when you're coaching a division rival.

Lewis hasn't rocked the boat in Washington.

"Marvin brings us a steady, well-calculated, well-proven defensive scheme," said linebacker LaVar Arrington. "What's surprising is the easy way he presents it. Marvin communicates well and has already sold the veterans."

Lewis seems to have overcome another major weakness. He seems at ease with the media. In Baltimore, he easily became annoyed with reporters, and was more elusive than Marshall Faulk during the tough times in his first two seasons. But Lewis apparently has picked up some tips from his former boss, Mr. Camera Ready Brian Billick (will he suffer withdrawal from not having the HBO Hard Knocks crew around this training camp?).

When the cameras roll, Lewis flashes that great smile. Interview requests are never turned down. He fits right in with the other politicians in Washington. On the field, players want to play for Lewis because of his reputation.

"If you date back to when he coached at Pittsburgh, just look at what the linebacking corps did when he was there," Arrington said. "As a whole, you see what he did when he went to Baltimore. I don't know about the rest of these guys, but I'm not going to become the one [about whom] they say, `Marvin Lewis is a great defensive coordinator, but what about that defensive team he had in Washington?'

"I'm looking to be part of that long list. Look at the Steelers when he was there, look at the Ravens, now look at the Redskins. I don't want to be that trivia question: What defense was not good that Marvin Lewis coached?"

There are no questions about who is running the show in Washington. Head coach Steve Spurrier has the title, but Lewis is in basic control. He deals with salary cap issues, draft picks and even which field to practice on. Most of Spurrier's time is used tinkering with his toy, the offense.

There are striking similarities between Billick's arrival in Baltimore and Spurrier's joining the Redskins at the end of last season. Both had the reputation of being quarterback and offensive gurus. Both teams already had promising defenses, but neither had established quarterbacks. But Billick's attention to detail is so great that it's amusing at times. Spurrier is more of a wing-it guy. Billick scripts plays; Spurrier makes them up on the go.

"Our relationship has been good," said Lewis of Spurrier, even though Lewis is just as meticulous as Billick. "He has his way about him, with the offense, the communication with quarterbacks and what he is trying to do. Steve will come out for a practice and get a feel for things, much like he would in a game. That's just his style."

Whether it's Baltimore or Washington, Lewis' defense will have to carry the team. The Redskins added Pro Bowl linebackers Jeremiah Trotter and Jessie Armstead during the off-season to team with Arrington, and also added defensive end Renaldo Wynn.

Washington will try to put a lot of pressure on the quarterback because they have great one-on-one cornerbacks in Champ Bailey and Fred Smoot.

Lewis likes the veteran leadership.

"I think that's been part of the fun coming over here, is what you don't know about the guys," Lewis said. "We have some veterans who have worked with a number of great defensive coordinators, but they have been open to a change. They still have that zest to win."

The real challenges won't come until the regular season. Lewis welcomes adversity, and knows his defense won't become great until it faces challenges. That's how the Ravens became great: overcoming adversity, pursuing like hell, but also playing with discipline.

"We got some guys who'll be on SportsCenter," Lewis said. "But we might be on there for winning six games, or we could be on there a lot because we're a very, very good football team. They have to make that decision.

"The success we had in Baltimore came from the fact that we had a great leader in Ray [middle linebacker Ray Lewis] who kept us together when times were tough. There wasn't anything we hadn't seen before."

They'll get it together. And within a year or two, the Redskins will have one of the better defenses in the league. And then maybe, just maybe, league owners will hire Lewis as a head coach.

There won't be anything else left for him to prove.

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