Notes: First-Timers to Square Off

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During a week where multiple head coaches have been fired throughout the NFL, two first-timers have made the case for hiring the unlikely choices.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh and Miami Dolphins coach Tony Sparano were both tabbed last year with zero head coaching experience on the professional level between them.

All they did in their rookie seasons was combine for 22 wins and reach the postseason, going from last in their respective divisions to first. Harbaugh inherited a 5-11 Ravens squad and mucked his way to a 11-5 campaign. The 11-5 Dolphins under Sparano bounced back from a dreadful 1-15 record.

Now, both surprise teams will meet this weekend in a Wild Card battle at Dolphin Stadium.

Typically refusing to wistfully look back on the reasons such a turn around might have occurred, Harbaugh deflected any praise for the job he's done.

"I think it says something about two organizations and the jobs that the players did this year," Harbaugh said. "It's two teams having good seasons and playing well and making the playoffs, more than anything else.

"That's the type of stuff you think about when the season is over. We're excited. Our team is excited. The coaches are excited. The organization is excited to go play a meaningful game in January, and that's what we're about to do."

Sparano would admit, however, that winning an AFC East title was more of a dream scenario when he was initially hired by Miami executive vice president of football operations Bill Parcells, replacing current Ravens offensive coordinator Cam Cameron. Parcells and Sparano rebuilt most of the roster and coaching staff throughout the offseason.

"I wasn't thinking about a division championship [when I was hired]," he told Baltimore reporters. "There were too many things that had to happen. I was just thinking about one step at a time, and I think that's what this team has done a really good job of doing."

For the Ravens, having Harbaugh on the sideline has been a "breath of fresh air," as stated by linebacker Terrell Suggs. While many outside of Baltimore's practice facility may have written off the team, Harbaugh instilled a tough and team-first attitude that fostered trust and confidence in the locker room.

"We expected to be here," Suggs explained. "[Harbaugh] did a good job of preparing us and really putting his foot on the gas and taking us to the next level. He's done his job. We're in the playoffs, and now we need to see how far we can go."

And, the former Philadelphia Eagles secondary coach and special teams coordinator has built that same trust and confidence from his players by sticking to his constant message.

"We have a new leader," cornerback Samari Rolle said. "He's humble. He treats everybody with respect. You have no choice but to play hard for a coach like that."

Added defensive end Trevor Pryce: "He tells us all the time that he's proud to stand with us as our coach on Sundays. How could you not want to play for someone who is proud to be your coach? You play hard because it's your job, but he makes it more fun to do it."

In the end, both rookies obviously have their clubs doing what they have to do to win games. It may have been unlikely to some, but such results from the Ravens and the Dolphins show that one doesn't need to own years of head coaching tenure to lead a team.

One must first be a leader.

Rex Getting Looks

The New York Jets have asked for permission to speak with Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan about their head coaching vacancy. And while Ryan admitted he was flattered, he is solely eyeing Sunday's Dolphins game.

"Like I've always said, every coach would like to be a head coach in the National Football League," Ryan explained Thursday. "That would be a goal for anybody, I would imagine. But right now, my focus is strictly on us preparing for Miami and in these playoffs. I've prepared all my life to be a head coach, and if somebody sees fit of giving me that opportunity, that would be great. If not, I'll stay here with this organization and with our players and our coaches, and I'll be happy."

New York fired Eric Mangini on Monday and has been compiling a list of candidates all week. Reports have circulated that the Detroit Lions and St. Louis Rams are also interested in Ryan, who is the architect of the NFL's second-ranked defense this year.

But, if Ryan had his druthers, he wouldn't be interviewing for any job until February.

"I hope that they've got to wait until after the Super Bowl, if somebody wants me," he said with a laugh. "That's the real deal there."

Injury Update

Five players that missed Wednesday's practice - safety Ed Reed (thigh), wideout Derrick Mason (shoulder), linebacker Jarret Johnson (calf), cornerback Fabian Washington (toe) and defensive tackle Justin Bannan (foot) - were all back on the field Thursday in a limited role.

The only player to be held out for the entire session was starting cornerback Samari Rolle (ankle/foot). Rolle is expected to play Sunday in Miami.

Meanwhile, other players that were listed as limited were wideout Mark Clayton (knee), guard Chris Chester*(back), running back Ray Rice (left shin bruise), safety Tom Zbikowski (thigh), kicker Matt Stover (sprained right ankle) and linebacker Antwan Barnes* (chest).

Barnes was thought to be headed for Injured Reserve last week, but the Ravens reversed course on the second-year pass-rusher.

"I'm getting better and want to play if the coaches need me," Barnes said. "It's their decision, and I'll be ready."

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View the full Ravens-Dolphins Injury Report.

View the full Ravens-Dolphins Injury Report.

View the full Ravens-Dolphins Injury Report.

View the full Ravens-Dolphins Injury Report.

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