The final holdover from the Super Bowl XXXV defensive staff, Ryan, 42, was
promoted Tuesday from defensive line coach to replace Mike Nolan, the new San Francisco 49ers' head coach.
"I think I'm bred to coach defense," Ryan said. "I've always wanted to run my own show. Getting this opportunity here is huge. I plan on taking full advantage of it."
Meanwhile, the Ravens interviewed Miami Dolphins defensive line coach Clarence Brooks as a potential successor to Ryan.
Ryan has been sought after for NFL coordinator jobs for years, but wasn't allowed to interview by Ravens coach Brian Billick because he was slated to take over if Nolan left.
He was blocked this month from talking with Marvin Lewis, the former Ravens defensive coordinator, to run the Cincinnati Bengals' defense. Last year, Ryan was prevented from pursuing the Oakland Raiders job that went to Rob Ryan, his twin brother.
The last two Ravens' defensive coordinators are now NFL head coaches.
"We will miss Mike," Billick said. "I'm excited about the change, the energy and direction, and there will be some changes. Rex is just the man to pull that together for us."
That direction may entail a shift back to the 4-3 defense after using the 3-4 for the last three years. Several players, all of whom endorsed Ryan's elevation, predicted a move to the 4-3 as the primary scheme.
However, Ryan downplayed that scenario.
A shift back to the 4-3 might help preserve All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis, who recently underwent wrist surgery and has a history of shoulder problems, by shielding him from blocks.
"Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if we had a 4-3 defense next year," defensive end Tony Weaver said. "I know it's a style Rex is used to and one that he supports. I would be a true defensive end which is probably where I belong."
If inside linebacker Ed Hartwell departs in free agency, that could move Lewis back to a true middle linebacker position. In a 4-3 with massive tackles Sam Adams and Tony Siragusa and skilled ends Michael McCrary and Rob Burnett, the Ravens set a 16-game NFL record for fewest points allowed (165).
Whichever scheme the Ravens employ, it's likely to entail a hard-nosed approach that will feature Lewis' speed and hitting ability. The Ravens would likely need a wide-bodied tackle like Adams to pair with the undersized Gregg in a 4-3.
"You've got one of the greatest linebackers, if not the best linebacker in the history of the game, and he's still the best in the league in my opinion," Ryan said. "It starts there. Which means we're not going to line up in a front if we don't have the parts. Believe me, we're going to be multiple, we're going to be exciting and we're going to get after people."
With Ryan as defensive line coach, the Ravens didn't allow a 100-yard rusher in 50 consecutive games from 1998 to 2001. Last season, Baltimore ranked second in the NFL by allowing 3.6 yards per rush, ranked sixth in total defense and scored a league-high seven defensive touchdowns.
However, Priest Holmes, Corey Dillon, Curtis Martin and Jerome Bettis all surpassed the century rushing mark.
"Our goal is always to stop the run and be the best in the game," Ryan said. "We plan on being there again."
Ryan has built a reputation for getting his players to overachieve and developing young linemen like Weaver, nose guard Kelly Gregg and end Marques Douglas.
"Rex has got that pedigree, and one thing we will do is be aggressive," Weaver said. "We won't be a bend but don't break defense. I think you'll see a lot of blitzes with Rex."
The Ryan family has coached in six Super Bowls with five different NFL teams. The bloodlines of defense run deep with the Ryans, starting with Buddy who's retired and owns horse farms.
"You don't go into the game trying to pattern yourself after a certain coach," Ryan said. "My father's had great successes, but I think part of it rubs off on you."
As well as a being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.
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