Eisenberg: Green Light To Amp Up Pass Rush

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There was a lot to take in at the Ravens' weekend minicamp. Sergio Kindle asked reporters to "cut, paste and delete" references to his prediction that he would be Rookie of the Year. (Funny stuff.) Ray Lewis said he was using Kenpo, a martial art, to help him keep in shape. Joe Flacco explained that his meeting with USC pitching coach Tom House was strictly about maintaining shoulder health, not about how to throw the football. And Flacco and Anquan Boldin said they were getting used to each other.

But other than Michael Oher's switch from right to left tackle, there wasn't a ton of major news. Only once did my ears really perk up -- when Greg Mattison brought up the subject of the pass rush.

The Ravens' defensive coordinator was asked about Terrell Suggs, who experienced a less-than-stellar 2009, with just 4 1/2 sacks, after signing a $63 million contract before the season. He looked fit and energized on the practice field over the weekend after having spent the past two months in the team's voluntary offseason conditioning program. This is the first time Suggs has been able to participate in the program in three years because he was previously designated the team's franchise player, and it is potentially crucial because the Ravens' entire pass rush struggled along with Suggs last season, finishing tied for 18th in the league in sacks.

"How does Terrell look?" a reporter asked Mattison after Saturday's morning workout.

"How does he look to you?" Mattison responded with a smile, inferring that it was pretty darn obvious how he looked.

Mattison continued: "Terrell is working extremely hard. One of our big emphases has been (improving) pass rushing technique. A lot of probably what has happened with our guys has maybe been me, saying 'we've got to stop the run, stop the run,' putting a lot of emphasis on that and putting Suggs in a position where he's not in a pass rush mode. Our attitude now, in this camp, has been to work a great deal on pass rush and get him more in a position where he can rush the passer."

Now that is interesting, I thought. As the demise of the Ravens' pass rush was debated during last season, many observers felt Mattison, who calls the signals, wasn't bringing enough heat. He's never going to be an all-out blitz maniac along the lines of Rex Ryan – few coordinators are – but when he said Saturday that "a lot of probably what has happened….has maybe been me," he was basically acknowledging that he needed to find a way to increase the pressure on opposing signal-callers.

So the big news out of minicamp is that the Ravens want to amp up their pass rush just like they've amped up their passing game.

It's fairly obvious, actually. Since the end of last season, they have a) added a pass rush specialist, Outside Linebacker Coach Ted Monachino, to their coaching staff; b) used their top draft pick to take Kindle, whose specialty is getting to the passer; and c) converted Paul Kruger from linebacker to defensive end in hopes of getting him on the field and into opposing offensive backfields in 2010.

But the key to the entire endeavor is getting more out of Suggs. He's a three-time Pro Bowl selection, one of the team's best (and best-paid) players, but he wasn't a game-changer in 2009. A measurable uptick in his performance would be, in a word, huge.

Suggs didn't hold court with the media over the weekend, but he looked like a different player – toned and fit. And he was highly animated on the field, chatting up everyone. The guy seemed to be enjoying himself and intent on reclaiming his status as one of the league's premier pass rushers, having admitted he wasn't satisfied with his performance in 2009.

But he needs the green light, and Mattison certainly seemed to indicate it was in the offing when he said a goal was to "get him more in a position where he can rush the passer."

That can only be construed as a much-needed development for the Ravens' defense.

John Eisenberg worked in the newspaper business for 28 years as a sports columnist, with much of that time coming at the Baltimore Sun. While working for the Sun, Eisenberg spent time covering the Ravens, among other teams and events, including the Super Bowl, Final Four, World Series and Olympics. Eisenberg is also the author of seven sports-themed books.

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