Ravens facing an old friend in Jets' Henderson

OWINGS MILLS -- Bearded, stocky and sporting a voice as loud and resonant as a foghorn, that's aggressive, high-energy New York Jets defensive coordinator Donnie Henderson in a nutshell.

About the only things that have changed about Henderson since leaving his old post as the Baltimore Ravens' secondary coach last winter is his job title and his address. Henderson, 47, remains a stickler for details, enamored of scaring quarterbacks with blitzes and intolerant of mental mistakes or a lack of toughness.

Henderson's temper is legendary, and his forceful outbursts and emphatic points are often colored with enough profanity to rival a sailor's vocabulary.

Henderson's tough-love approach had a lot to do with the development of Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed and Pro Bowl cornerback Chris McAlister. And the Ravens (5-3) will be playing on Henderson's turf Sunday in the Meadowlands.

"Donnie is Donnie," Ravens cornerback Gary Baxter said. "He's a great guy, but he's not going to change for anybody. He's always going to be the same person whether you like it or you don't.

"I'm glad he's having a lot of success up there. He's doing great things and it will be great to see him."

Henderson is a disciple of Cincinnati Bengals defensive coordinator Marvin Lewis, the architect of the Ravens' Super Bowl defense. The Jets (6-2) rank 11th in the NFL in total defense, have registered 20 sacks and have intercepted nine passes.

"There's going to be some excitement," Henderson told reporters who cover the Jets. "In my heart, I still like those guys. They still play football hard on defense. I love them all.

"They're all special to me. They are the reasons I got this opportunity. I'm blessed. I feel indebted to them."

Henderson has completely revamped the Jets' defensive style. He was hired in January to enliven a group that had grown passive under former coordinator Ted Cottrell.

It's now a bolder, more assertive, faster unit led by rush end John Abraham's AFC-high 8 ½ sacks. The Jets no longer are playing a read-and-react, bend-but-don't-break scheme. They're attacking.
Henderson has replaced slow veterans with young talent like rookie middle linebacker Jonathan Vilma, a former University of Miami standout he calls a little Ray Lewis.

"Obviously, Donnie was very important to me and he plays an aggressive defense," McAlister said. "He's teaching the same things in New York."
Reed characterized Henderson as a life-long friend, and the general vibe at the Ravens' training complex has been one of pride that a key component of past defenses has thrived elsewhere.

"Donnie is a true players' coach," linebacker Ray Lewis said. "He really knows how to fire you up."

Henderson has known Ravens coach Brian Billick since 1986 when they worked together at Utah State, where Henderson played cornerback.
"He knows how to push them and beat on them and they love every minute of it because they know it's in their best interest," Billick said. "He's got a great mind for the game."

Since a 22-17 loss last week to the Buffalo Bills, Henderson has been stewing over allowing Willis McGahee to rush for 157 yards and not sacking immobile quarterback Drew Bledsoe even once.

For the season, though, the Jets have surrendered an average of 108.5 rushing yards.

"It all starts with me," Henderson said. "I make the calls. I gotta do a better job of putting us in a better situation."

Henderson's chief challenge will be containing All-Pro runner Jamal Lewis, who complained after only having 22 carries in a win over Cleveland. Lewis is bound to be heavily involved against the Jets.
"Once he gets to that second level, once he finds his crease, he's running full speed,," Henderson said regarding the 245-pound speedster. "All of a sudden, the nightmare train is coming."

Henderson admitted that it will be difficult for him to contain his emotions against his former team. He joked that he might even don a helmet on the sidelines.
"I need to keep it in," Henderson said. "If there's one thing I'm going to be doing is still being me. Do you try to be calm and not panic or do you be you? That's the only thing I can do is be me. It will be fun."

Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times and ravensinsider.com


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