Ravens add enthusiastic outside linebackers coach

OWINGS MILLS - Introducing his new outside linebackers coach, Baltimore Ravens coach Brian Billick described Jeff FitzGerald as a high-energy personality.

"He's the type of coach who if you told him to look at eight players at eight schools, he would say, 'While I'm out there, I'll look at 12 players at 12 schools,'" Billick said of the former Arizona Cardinals assistant. "He's a hard worker who's excited about his job."

That energetic nature was evident during a conference call from Mobile, Ala., where FitzGerald joined Ravens' coaches and scouts at the Senior Bowl.

An auto-racing and international travel enthusiast, FitzGerald sounded like he was in a hurry to start coaching in Baltimore. Especially after four years of losing with the Cardinals, where his tenure in the Arizona desert ended when Dave McGinnis and his staff were fired.

"I like to move fast and I like my players to move fast," FitzGerald said. "Football turns me on. I love the position that I coach, and it takes a lot to be a true linebacker."

FitzGerald's arrival means Phil Zacharias shifting from outside linebackers coach to defensive assistant.

Under Zacharias, Peter Boulware repeated as a Pro Bowl selection and NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Terrell Suggs had a dozen sacks.

Suggs spent a large portion of practice time working with defensive line coach Rex Ryan. FitzGerald will attempt to complete Suggs' transition from college defensive end to emerge as a less one-dimensional pro outside linebacker. An expert pass rusher, Suggs struggled against the run during a playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. The 21-year-old has rudimentary pass coverage skills because of his inexperience. "I feel as though I do a good job of teaching guys," FitzGerald said. "He's a guy that should, if I do my job correctly, be good at the other things an outside linebacker is asked to do outside of being used solely as a pass rusher."

After prior stints with the Washington Redskins, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, San Diego State and the University of Alabama, FitzGerald was a part of Arizona teams that went 7-9, 5-11 and 4-12 over the past three seasons.

"I like to compete and win games," FitzGerald said. "We didn't do much of that in Arizona and it was tremendously frustrating. I felt really bad for the players.

"I tried to keep their heads in the right place even when they were surrounded by a lot of negativism. They were my salvation a lot of times."

In Baltimore, the contrast is obvious. FitzGerald will be working for defensive coordinator Mike Nolan, who held the same position when FitzGerald was in Washington. The Ravens finished 10-6 this season, third in total defense and claimed their first division title. Baltimore won the Super Bowl three years ago and features Ray Lewis, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

"It's been the first time in four years that anything is attainable," FitzGerald said. "To be able to contribute to it, it jacks me up."

NOTES: Both the New York Jets and Chicago Bears are considering Philadelphia Eagles linebackers coach Ron Rivera as a possible defensive coordinator. Ravens secondary coach Donnie Henderson remains a finalist for the Jets' job. ... The Oakland Raiders reportedly contacted Ravens defensive line coach Rex Ryan for an assistant job during their aborted courtship of Dallas assistant Sean Payton.

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times.


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