Ravens' Ryan planning to run father's 46 defense

OWINGS MILLS – Wielding a laser pointer as he outlined his aggressive defensive mentality, new Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan heard a voice bellow from the back of the room. "Is there a reason why all these calls are food?" Ravens coach Brian Billick quipped after watching Ryan unveil defensive schemes called 46 Whopper, 46 Cheeseburger and 46 Hamburger.

Beyond the laughter about Ryan's appetite, though, is the reality of how the new defensive boss is instituting the 46 defense made popular by his father, Buddy Ryan, with the famed 1985 Chicago Bears defense headlined by Hall of Fame linebacker Mike Singletary.

As Ryan and offensive coordinator Jim Fassel detailed their respective game plans in a two-hour chalk talk for Baltimore area media Tuesday, a few points became clear about a planned shift from primarily using the 3-4 defense.

The Ravens are committed to running the 46 defense, a high-pressure alignment that hinges on the flexibility of pass rushers Terrell Suggs, Dan Cody and Adalius Thomas. They'll still employ a lot of 3-4 and 4-3 principles.

The 46 is designed to allow All-Pro middle linebacker Ray Lewis to roam free toward the football and not have to take on the isolation blocks that stymied him a year ago against the Kansas City Chiefs and Pittsburgh Steelers.

"I always talk to [Buddy Ryan] about it and he's probably as excited as I am about getting the bull's-eye off Ray Lewis," Ryan said. "He doesn't need to be a nose guard this year, that was his thinking on it.

"We should be in great shape against the running game. You don't have a blocker for Ray."

Named after gritty former Bears safety Doug Plank, who operated like a glorified linebacker, the 46 defense typically places six defenders at the line of scrimmage.

In the Ravens' case, Terrell Suggs -- a Pro Bowl outside linebacker last season -- will play the rush end position. He might be called an outside linebacker, but he's essentially a glorified defensive end whose primary responsibility is to rush the quarterback.

Ryan's plan is centered on creating intimidation through hard hits and confusion by disguising schemes.

"I think it's going to be an incredible marriage of what he plans philosophically and a very unique group of talent with Ray Lewis in the middle and an excellent secondary," Billick said. "I think it's going to allow us to do some things you haven't seen for a while."

In the 46 alignment, the Ravens can move linebacker Tommy Polley up to the line and replace him inside with a safety. That safety typically will be Will Demps, leaving reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Ed Reed to play centerfield.

Ryan even showed one defensive stunt where Lewis dropped back into the deep middle of the field while Demps and Reed went after the quarterback.

"We want to hit the quarterback as much as possible," Ryan said. "If he's feeling too comfortable back there, we want to put him on the ground."

Ryan said he'll alternate between sending Suggs and outside linebackers Adalius Thomas and Dan Cody after the quarterback, adding that athletic second-year linebacker Roderick Green will be used more extensively as a pass rusher.

"You're going to see a lot more of Roderick Green," Ryan said.

Polley, who gained experience at inside linebacker for the St. Louis Rams, would occasionally play the ‘Jack' position next to Lewis, the ‘Mike' linebacker.

He'll also play ‘Will,' or weakside linebacker in a 4-3 with Thomas or Cody playing ‘Sam,' the strongside linebacker. Cody and Suggs would usually be the outside rushers in most defenses on third downs.

In the 4-3, Lewis would play a true middle linebacker position with defensive linemen Kelly Gregg and Maake Kemoeatu lining up inside. Tony Weaver will play one defensive end spot with Suggs lining up opposite him. Thomas or Cody would play ‘Sam,' with Polley at ‘Will.'

There are defenses that look like a 5-2 front, which could be named after Lewis, the two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year who wears No. 52.

Ryan said the Ravens can shift seamlessly from the 46, with a healthy dose of the unpredictable defense planned for the fall.

"If we feel like we need it, it's like aspirin, we're going to take it," Ryan said. "It's definitely a good chunk of what we're going to use."

NOTES: Ryan said that Thomas, a Pro Bowl special teams selection in 2003, will be used more on special teams this season. ... The Ravens signed former University of Maryland safety Chris Kelley as a rookie free agent. A converted quarterback, Kelley has a history of knee problems. He tried out for the Washington Redskins, but wasn't signed. "Good, local kid," Billick said. "We think a lot of him and we'll give him a chance to see what he can do in training camp." …Wide receiver Clarence Moore made an acrobatic sideline catch while sliding on his knees. ... Rookie kicker Rhys Lloyd hit a 57-yard field goal.

In addition to being a long time contributor to RavensInsider, Aaron Wilson writes for the Carroll County Times in Westminster Maryland.

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