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Ravens expect seamless transition to new defensive boss

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Robert E. Klein/Associated Press
New Ravens DC Dean Pees must overcome a devastating injury to Terrell Suggs in his first season at the helm.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- As Dean Pees takes over as Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator, his mission is clear: Maintain what has been one of the most dominant units in the league. And apparently, he has delivered a message to his players on exactly how he would like that to be accomplished.

"Just play, be yourself and go out there and whoop somebody's behind," defensive tackle Terrence Cody said.

Especially in Baltimore, that would work. Pees spent the past two seasons coaching Ravens linebackers, but now he's calling the shots for a defense that is accustomed to striking fear in opponents and putting up some stingy numbers.

"The defense here has been a staple of the Ravens organization," linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "DP goes right along with that."

Continuing a tradition of rating among the league's best, Baltimore ranked third in two critical defensive categories last season, allowing 288.9 yards and 16.6 points per game. The Ravens and coach John Harbaugh handed the defensive reins to Pees in January, when Chuck Pagano was named head coach of the Indianapolis Colts.

"It's an incredible opportunity to be a defensive coordinator for anybody in this league, but it's especially humbling to be one for the Ravens," Pees said at the time. "I'm not going to be the same as Chuck Pagano. You got to be who you are."

Harbaugh, whose ties to Pees run deep, is fine with that. Pees spent 15 seasons as a defensive coordinator on the college level, including the 1983 campaign, when he coached Harbaugh at Miami University of Ohio.

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"I think he'll be Dean Pees," Harbaugh said Wednesday, as the Ravens commenced OTAs. "He'll bring his personality (to the job). He's a very detail-oriented coach, very organized."

While training camp remains two months away, Pees will have to be resourceful as the Ravens continue their on-field work this spring. None of the Ravens' 2011 Pro Bowl defensive players were on the field Wednesday. Ray Lewis, Ed Reed and Haloti Ngata chose not to attend; reigning Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs is sidelined after tearing his Achilles tendon.

Pees' background as New England Patriots defensive coordinator from 2006-09 indicates that he has had success in mixing and matching and plugging holes with healthy bodies. In 2008, New England went 11-5 and allowed 19.3 points per game, despite using 22 different starters on defense, including four rookies.

For this year's Ravens, rookie linebacker Courtney Upshaw suddenly became an integral piece the moment Suggs' injury occurred. Now he's expected to help immediately. Cody, for one, has no doubt. "I can tell he can play," Cody said. "You know why? He's from 'Bama. National champions."

And the Ravens have recently shown a short-term ability to win without their defensive headliners: In 2010, they went 4-2 as Reed began the year on the physically unable to perform list, and last year they won four games with Lewis sidelined.

It is worth noting that Harbaugh expects all players except Suggs to be on the field soon, perhaps as early as mandatory minicamp June 12-14 and certainly in training camp.

"I don't think our situations are serious situations" is how Harbaugh phrased it.

That would be good news for the Ravens, particularly Pees, whose unit still is likely to miss the energetic intensity trademarked by Suggs. Yet safety Bernard Pollard finds Pees a comfortable fit, heading a defensive that prides itself on making opponents uncomfortable.

"I think they kept (Pees) for a reason. He steps in, it's like he's been here the whole time," Pollard said. "He wants us to play harder, play fast. He doesn't want to change the Ravens way."

Follow Kimberly Jones on Twitter @KimJonesSports

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