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How Zach Orr Is Settling in as Defensive Coordinator

DC Zach Orr
DC Zach Orr

When he was a linebacker, there were times when Zach Orr would get a play call from his coach and think he would've chosen something different.

Now calling the shots for the first time in his coaching career, the Ravens' new defensive coordinator has a different appreciation.

"When you're a player, a lot of times, you think you have all the answers. You're like, 'Man, we could do this, we could do that,'" Orr said at Ravens Organized Team Activities. "But when you step back and you become a coach and you become a play-caller, you kind of see the bigger picture of things."

Orr is taking over for Mike Macdonald, who last year established himself as one of the top defensive coordinators in the league before taking a head coaching job in Seattle. At 31 years old, Orr is the second-youngest defensive coordinator in the league, and he's learning fast and adjusting well.

Orr has many factors in his favor. He played in the Ravens defense from 2014-2016. He studied the Ravens' system as a defensive analyst, then coached in it under Macdonald for the past two seasons. Orr knows Ravens defense.

Watching the Ravens defense at OTAs the past two weeks, there's nothing visibly all that different from previous units. The defense looks organized and buttoned up. There isn't confusion. While there's no tackling or touching quarterbacks, they're still getting after them.

Although he'll put his own spin on the scheme Baltimore has sharpened in recent years, Orr said not a whole lot has to change – even down to the terminology. He's also trying to make it easy on players making the transition.

"We've been building this system for a long, long time – since 2018," Orr said. "The people that were here that are at other places, they'll tell you, 'The gameplan is going to change week-to-week, so based off what you do is basically how we're going to play you.' … We're just going to do what we do and play how we play."

"There have been a lot of similarities. But again, it's still May, so we'll see how that looks in August, September, getting ready for the season," safety Kyle Hamilton added. "I'm sure we'll add more layers to that, but I can already see there are different wrinkles and stuff like that. [It's all from the] same family, but I feel like 'Z.O.' has his own flavor he's going to put on it, and I'm excited to see what he does."

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The newest part of the job is the play-calling. Orr's previous bosses told him to get practice calling plays while watching film. He re-watched the Ravens' games from last season and put himself in the play-caller's shoes. Still, it's different in live action. Just like OTAs are practice for the players, it's Orr's time to rehearse calling plays.

"It's just taking it day by day. You definitely get more comfortable," Orr said. "Coach [John] Harbaugh does a great job of putting us in these game-like situations, even as play-callers and as coaches. We always do 'move the ball,' we do 'call-it periods,' where there is no script, you have to call it, and you have to think on the fly and use your play-calling sheet."

Another, and perhaps the most visible, adjustment Orr is having to make is his demeanor. Orr's passion is part of what made him a special player and it's part of what players have loved about him as their coach. But he's having to recalibrate now with the walkie-talkie in his hands.

Orr won't be far from the action, as he'll call plays from the sideline.

"I've got to calm myself down a little bit," Orr said with a laugh. "Now, after a play, I celebrate, but now I've got to get ready for the next call. I can't celebrate too hard.

"I'm definitely going to express my excitement when the time is right, but I definitely have to be aware of that. Things get moving quick, and you have to be planning ahead. You have the call, what is the next call that you're thinking? What's the down and distance? What's the situation? What have you done before? What do you want to do next?"

The Ravens took the field Tuesday for Organized Team Activities at the Under Armour Performance Center.

Orr's defense will be tested early on this season. First up is the defending two-time champion Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes. In Week 3, Orr is looking forward to a trip "home" to Dallas, not far from where Orr grew up with his big football family, which will surely be in attendance. After that, it's Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills, then Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals.

If the Ravens are going to come out of September in good position, a hot start from Orr and his defense will be required.

"We respect the team, the quarterbacks, the coordinators that we're going to face as a defense," Orr said. "But we honestly believe that if we prepare the right way, we play how we're supposed to play, it's not going to really matter who we're playing or when we're playing them."

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