Aggressive, Confusing "D" Still Expected in '09

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Even though Greg Mattisonis new to being a defensive coordinator on the NFL level, Ravens fans will be able to recognize the Baltimore staple on Sundays.

That much was evident even on the Ravens' first minicamp last weekend.

Players were flying to the ball and constantly switching positions to confuse the offense. Even though there were a few unfamiliar faces, the similarities to what has always been an attacking and unpredictable unit were evident.

"I think you know what you want to do ahead of time just by knowing your players," Mattison said on Saturday. "There might be a few changes you do, but I don't know if it's experimenting. If you say experimenting, you're kind of saying half the time it isn't going to work.

"I think our staff and everybody has done enough research and knows our players well enough that we know what we want to do. Now we've just got to tweak it the way we want to do it."

When former Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan left this offseason to helm the New York Jets, Mattison was largely an unknown commodity outside of team headquarters.

His only professional coaching experience had been one year tutoring linebackers under head coach John Harbaugh.

Ryan, on the other hand, led the Ravens' defense from 2005-2008, never once finishing below sixth in the league in yards allowed.

Mattison, 59, believes he is up to the challenge.

"I'd probably be lying if I said I wasn't nervous. I'd rather use the word excitement," he explained. "I don't know if I've ever been more excited than when I walked in that [meeting] room the first time, that very first meeting where you're really the defensive coordinator. And I told the players, the thing that got me so excited is the players in that room.

"I held up the playbook and said, 'It doesn't really matter what this playbook has,' because as long as we have the attitude and the players that we have in that defensive room we're going to be successful."

Mattison does bring an impressive college resume to the job, however.

He owns 37 years of coaching experience, 11 of which came as a defensive coordinator. Most recently, he shared coordinator duties at the University of Florida and also helmed units at Notre Dame and Michigan.

Along the way, Mattison learned how to relate to his players, a trait that had definitely aided his transition into the new role.

"It just so happens [Greg] Mattison and I are really close," said linebacker Ray Lewis. "With the conversations we've had on the phone, we've already caught up with probably where I've been years before, just having the same thought process and things like that. It's been a smooth transition.

"He and I think a lot alike. He's a very excited guy, very enthusiastic about a lot of things, so I think it fits hand-in-hand."

Lewis has been the one constant as the Ravens moved on from previous coordinators Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan and Ryan (all of whom went on to head-coaching jobs). Now, he'll be a key cog in Mattison's own adaptation of the system.

"We haven't changed the defense too much," Harbaugh said. "I'd say we have evolved the defense. All things, probably if Rex had stayed and Mike [Pettine, former Ravens outside linebackers coach] had stayed, would have evolved a similar way. It's just an on-going process with our defense."

Chief among the concerns personnel-wise was the successor to middle linebacker Bart Scott. The former undrafted free agent was coming off his fourth consecutive 100-tackles campaigns when he opted to follow Ryan to New York to become the Jets' centerpiece.

In addition, neither playmaking safety Jim Leonhard nor cornerback Chris McAlister were retained.

The Ravens have responded by elevating Tavares Goodento play next to Lewis, plugging Dawan Landry *back in his rightful position at safety, where he began the 2008 campaign, and signing Domonique Foxworth *to start opposite incumbent corner Fabian Washington.

Gooden was especially dominant. Fully recovered from a year-ending hip injury, the 6-foot-1, 240-pound Gooden was all over the field, ranging sideline-to-sideline with ease.

"He came out the first day and was like a wild horse," Mattison said of Gooden. "But, he's gotten better and better. It's just the same attitude he had last year, which got you to love him last year. Stay healthy and keep improving."

Minicamp also offered Mattison his first chance to work with Baltimore's newest draft picks, pass rusher Paul Kruger, cornerback Lardarius Webb and linebacker Jason Phillips.

Mattison inundated his charges with as much of the playbook as he could over the five-practice session. He'll take the rest of the offseason to officially put his stamp on the defense.

Harbaugh said Mattison might be "starting somewhat of a new era, defensively."

At this point, Mattison is thinking in less grandiose terms.

"Every day I come out here I'm excited because you have an obligation, and your obligation is to try to get these players to be as good as they can be," Mattison said. "I've always felt that way, in that's your job. If you don't do your job like that, you fail a lot of good players. I never want to do that."

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