In Ravens' 3-4 scheme of things, basics stay

New players, coach aside, Newsome uses old ways to rebuild dismantled `D'

July 29, 2002|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

The Ravens have switched defenses and defensive coordinators, but their principle remains the same: Find fast players who stay on their feet and love to hit.

Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens' senior vice president of football operations, knows the look of the finished puzzle. After all, the Ravens' record-setting defense in 2000 had seven of 11 starters drafted by the organization.

Now, fresh off the dismantling of that dominating group, Newsome will see whether he can find the right pieces again for new defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and his new 3-4 defensive scheme. With six first-year starters on defense - including four recent draft picks - Newsome will learn quickly whether his method can produce another top defense.

"Whether we'll be able to set the all-time record in points scored, I don't know if we can duplicate that again," Newsome said. "But using the same formula, we will be able to go out and get the same type of players to fit the defense."

The newest additions to the rebuilding process - safety Ed Reed and defensive end Tony Weaver - have a distinct resemblance to the veterans they are replacing.

Reed, the team's first-round pick who remains unsigned, made his reputation at the University of Miami as a playmaker, the same forte as former All-Pro Rod Woodson. And Weaver is a younger version of Rob Burnett, with the same build (6 feet 3, 300 pounds) and mannerisms.

"Both of those guys [Reed and Weaver] would have been able to play or to get snaps with the other defense," Newsome said. "They would have been able to fit in because they're the same type of players."

The Ravens, though, are adapting to their current talent and will change to the 3-4 (three linemen and four linebackers) as their base defense. Losing five defensive linemen in the off-season, the team decided to switch schemes to get the most out of their talent.

The new defense will have four different looks, shifting linemen along the front. Most of the time, the Ravens will move outside linebackers Peter Boulware and Adalius Thomas close to the line of scrimmage, giving the appearance of a five-man front.

In that alignment, Boulware and Thomas will be rushing against running backs and tight ends rather than having to go against a 300-pound-plus tackle or guard.

"If we were sitting here trying to get four linemen on the field, we would really be in a pinch," said Nolan, who replaced long-time coordinator Marvin Lewis. "This way it puts less stress on that as far as rebuilding that position and allows us to keep two very good players in AD [Thomas] and Peter on the field at the same time. It's a pretty good match."

There has also been a change in the Ravens' pass defense.

Instead of having a quick, change-of-direction cornerback in Duane Starks, the Ravens have filled his starting spot with Gary Baxter, who is a more physical defender. While Baxter isn't the prototypical corner and will struggle with his footwork at times, he can use his strength and size against bigger receivers.

"[Baxter and Starks] are basically opposites," Newsome said. "Gary will be more like [the Ravens' other cornerback] Chris McAlister."

The beginning of this rebuilding phase has the Ravens scouring for depth. The Ravens will begin to form a clearer picture of their roster today, when they can evaluate their players in a full-padded setting.

"The first thing is you want to see who wants to hit and who doesn't," Nolan said. "There are some guys who want it and other guys who don't like it as much."

But just like before, constructing a top-flight defense won't be an overnight success. It's going to take time, patience, and most importantly, the right players.

"It's always about personnel and then you give them structure to perform," Nolan said. "But you need personnel first. That is the Baltimore Ravens. That's where it started. So, you get good players, give them some structure and have them play together and it can build itself."

Ravens camp

Yesterday: The Ravens had their first day off during training camp.

Today: The Ravens have full-team practices in the morning (8:45 to 11) and afternoon (4 to 5:30).

This week's highlight: Friday's intrasquad scrimmage at McDaniel College's Bair Stadium, 6 p.m.

Countdown to season opener: 41 days.

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