Ravens' Pagano has lofty legacy to maintain

OWINGS MILLS, MD. -- Chuck Pagano knows he has a lot to live up to as he takes over as the Ravens defensive coordinator.

So one of the first things Pagano did post-lockout was send the message to his players that they're all in the same boat he is.

As players describe it, the new coordinator gave the defense a visual of how its legacy was built. There are the obvious numbers, of course. The Ravens have been top 10 in total defense 10 times since 2000, top six on nine occasions, and top three in six of those 11 years.

That's astounding enough, but Pagano also went deeper into situational stats to drive it home. By the end, it was pretty clear what he was trying convey: No matter what the scheme or who's coaching it, it's the horsepower of the guys on the field that counts.

And Pagano's belief is that the Ravens, as usual, have the thoroughbreds to win the race on that side of the ball.

"Those guys built, obviously, a great legacy and tradition here," said Pagano, referencing the illustrious lineage of Ravens defensive coordinators (see box). "We've got great players. I learned a long time ago, if you've got great players, good things are gonna happen. They know this game, system's been in place, continuity's great, they give great effort, they're great students of the game.

"Everybody in that room, including myself, understands the expectations that come with this deal, playing here or coaching here. We'll just try to keep it going."

If their excellence ties them together, those that came before Pagano -- Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, and Greg Mattison -- hardly fit into a single mold.

In particular, the last two, Ryan and Mattison, were noticeably different in demeanor and style. And if anything, Pagano's elevation from secondary coach may mark a return to Ryan's free-wheeling, punch-em-in-the-teeth style.

One thing that's interesting about Pagano, and different, is that the four coordinators before him had made their way as coaches working with front-seven players, something that linebacker Jarrett Johnson pointed out. Not only did Pagano coach defensive backs the past three years in Baltimore, but he's spent 20 of his 22 years as a position coach, in college and the NFL, working in the secondary.

Part of the plan, now, is for Pagano to put more on those players in the secondary, a la Rex and also Rob Ryan (whom Pagano worked with in Oakland), so the Ravens can be more creative with their fronts.

"He coached with Rex. He knows Rex's mentality," said Johnson. "And he's a very similar guy, personality-wise. Those guys get fired up and they're gonna bring the house. They're not gonna sit back and play prevent. I'm excited to see him in action."

To execute all that, the Ravens invested at corner -- again, like Rex has in New York -- by drafting Jimmy Smith in the first round. He'll be thrown into a group that already includes another promising young cover man, Lardarius Webb, as well as proven vets Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr.

All of this, of course, isn't to take away from Mattison's work. The Ravens were third in points allowed last year, and ranked third and 10th in total defense in 2009 and '10, respectively, winning playoff games in both seasons.

But it is to say that, as much as his predecessors had their own twist on something that's worked for an awfully long time, Pagano will too. So the face and personality changes a bit. Expectations remain.

"I'm gonna be myself," said Pagano. "Everybody's gotta be themselves. Every one of those guys had a different personality. I think the guys would say that I'm a high energy guy. They understand that we want to play fast, we want to play smart, we don't want to beat ourselves. We want to bully people around. We want to be the best in the NFL."

Pagano also knows the key to that continues to be the two men who've embodied that tradition best -- 36-year-old middle linebacker Ray Lewis and 32-year-old safety Ed Reed. Knowing those two will be in the lineup is the ultimate security blanket for guys like Ryan and Mattison and now Pagano.

"You sleep well. You sleep well at night," Pagano said of having Lewis and Reed around. "Obviously, the experience they have and the leadership is second-to-none. It lets you do a lot. Even with some new guys here, it doesn't matter who you bring in, they're great mentors, they bring them up to speed. And combine it with a great coaching staff, having those two guys is awfully comforting."

There's work to do around those two, of course. Along with improvement at corner, the Ravens could use young players like Sergio Kindle and Terrence Cody coming along in the front seven.

But Pagano's OK with that, too. Because the way he sees it, he'll have plenty of help along the way.

Follow Albert Breer on Twitter @AlbertBreer

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