Ravens to replace Ryan in-house

OWINGS MILLS -- The Baltimore Ravens' next defensive coordinator is already working at team headquarters following the departure of Rex Ryan.

The Ravens plan to choose a replacement for Ryan, who was introduced Wednesday morning as the New York Jets' new head coach, from a pool of four internal candidates that includes special assistant Vic Fangio, linebackers coach Greg Mattison, secondary coach Chuck Pagano and defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.

"We've decided to keep that position in-house," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said Wednesday. "We're talking to guys right now on the staff trying to figure out what makes us stronger. We have a number of good candidates. They are tremendous coaches."

The Ravens hope to name a new defensive coordinator as soon as next week.

A former defensive coordinator with the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, New Orleans Saints and in the USFL with the Baltimore Stars, Fangio quietly works behind the scenes scouting opponents' tendencies. Known for his intellectual nature, Fangio is regarded as an expert strategist.

"He advances our schemes on offense and defense," Harbaugh said of Fangio. "Tremendous football knowledge, off-the-charts experience, great person. He's a great coach."

Fangio is emerging as a strong option for Harbaugh as well as Mattison, whom the Ravens managed to recruit away from the University of Florida last spring after increasing their salary offer. Plus, Mattison has long ties to the Harbaugh family having worked for Harbaugh's father, Jack Harbaugh, several years ago at Western Michigan.

"Coach Mattison is a great coach," linebacker Bart Scott said. "He commands a lot of respect."

Pagano helped the Ravens' secondary improve to second in the NFL in pass defense, leading the league with 26 interceptions as All-Pro free safety Ed Reed recorded a league-high nine interceptions.

"Coach Pagano is the man," cornerback Fabian Washington said. "You learn so much about the game from being around him and listening to what he tells you."

Brooks is a veteran assistant who has helped defensive tackle Haloti Ngata develop into one of the most destructive inside forces in the game as well as working with four-time Pro Bowl defensive end Trevor Pryce and accomplished nose guard Kelly Gregg.

Harbaugh didn't indicate if the Ravens will change their base 3-4 scheme, but said the team would continue to maintain its trademark hard-hitting approach.

"It's certainly going to be the style of defense," he said. "We're going to be aggressive, attack-oriented, physical, 11 guys running to the ball every single play, creating turnovers."

The Ravens have at least two jobs to fill on the staff as outside linebackers coach Mike Pettine went with Ryan to New York as defensive coordinator.

"That was a significant upgrade for Mike and an opportunity for him that we would not want to deny him," Harbaugh said. "We think that's a loss was well."

Harbaugh said that the Ravens don't envision allowing more assistant coaches to depart. All the coaches are under contract, and the Ravens have the ability to block any moves to another team unless it's an offer to become a head coach.

Quarterbacks coach Hue Jackson, who has been rumored as a potential offensive coordinator with the Jets if Brian Schottenheimer opts to leave as well as the San Francisco 49ers and the Cincinnati Bengals, has received the most buzz for jobs among the remaining assistants. Jackson tutored precocious rookie quarterback Joe Flacco.

"Hue did a tremendous job with Joe, Hue is one of the best offensive coaches in the league," Harbaugh said. "Hue is going to have a lot of opportunities to move up. Now whether Hue chooses to do that or not this year or next year or sometime down the road, we'll just have to see, but Hue Jackson is a shining star.

"He's a team guy, he's a humble man. I think he wants what's best for the Ravens right now, but he's going to have plenty of opportunities to go wherever he wants in this profession."

FREE AGENCY UPDATE: The Ravens were noncommittal on whether they want to retain cornerback Chris McAlister, deferring that decision to general manager Ozzie Newsome.

McAlister clashed with the new coaching staff and was benched for violating team rules prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins. He is recovering from season-ending knee surgery and the Ravens could save $8 million against the salary cap if they cut him.

"Chris McAlister is a heck of a player, he's a really good person," Harbaugh said. "If he wants to be a Raven, we'll see how it shakes out in the next few months and we'll have some conversations about that."

Added team owner Steve Bisciotti: "He's a wonderful guy, he's got a great personality, he's always upbeat. If he fits into our plans, he will be back. With the salary cap, that's what you're looking at constantly."

Harbaugh sounded more optimistic about retaining center Jason Brown.

"It's important," Harbaugh said "Jason Brown obviously was the anchor of the offensive line. He's a big, physical center. He handles nose guards, which is important in our division and we'll do our best just like we will with the other guys to bring him back.

"We've talked to him, and he wants to be here. We want him to be here. We'll just have to see how the economics shake out. If it works out, that would be a plus for us."

Harbaugh expressed a desire to retain veteran kicker Matt Stover, too.

"He's 40 years old, he's a free agent and he's still a really good kicker," he said. "We're not really too interested in weakening ourselves if we don't have to, but that remains to be determined as well. If we can bring him back here, we will. Again, we're hopeful that Matt will be here."

Undersized strong safety Jim Leonhard fits into a similar priority ;category after excelling as a replacement for injured starter Dawan Landry and as a punt returner.

"His impact was just dramatic," Harbaugh said. "He's a little bit undervalued athletically around the league, at least going into the season. He's probably not now. He's a valuable part of our defense."

Harbaugh also said that he has told Scott that the team would like to re-sign him. However, it will be extremely difficult to keep Scott as well as free agent linebackers Ray Lewis and Terrell Suggs.

INJURY UPDATE: Harbaugh reiterated that the team expects Landry to recover from his spinal cord concussion and play next season. However, Landry said Monday that he hasn't been cleared for contact and is still experiencing tingling sensations in his neck.

"We're very confident," Harbaugh said. "Everything I've been told is that he'll be able to lay next year. There's nothing that we've heard that he won't be able to."

Cornerback Samari Rolle missed the AFC title game with a partially torn hip flexor that won't require surgery

"There was a chance he could have played in the Super Bowl," Harbaugh said. "We were rehabbing him like crazy. We would have been very hopeful to get him back for the Super Bowl. That was the plan."

Harbaugh said he anticipates Gregg and offensive guard Marshal Yanda to be ready for next season after undergoing major knee surgeries.

QUICK HITS: Ravens director of pro personnel George Kokinis appears to be on the ve rge of being named the Cleveland Browns' general manager as soon as today, meeting with Browns owner Randy Lerner in New York on Wednesday. "He's still going through the interview process," Bisciotti said. ... Bisciotti praised Ryan, who coached the Ravens' second-ranked defense this season and landed a head-coaching position after coming close in the previous two hiring cycles. "There's not a finer guy in the league," Bisciotti said. "When we sat down after he didn't get the job, there was no sulking. I think that he's going to be a great coach in the NFL. I don't see any reason why he can't be." ... Harbaugh acknowledged that the Ravens will look to upgrade at wide receiver while saying that the team still has big plans for starter Derrick Mason and other receivers currently on the roster. ... Bisciotti said he was inspired by director of player development O.J. Brigance, who is battling amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. "It's just immeasurable," Bisciotti said. "My dad died when I was eight. He knew he was going to die for two years with leukemia. The letter that my dad wrote us was about what a blessing it was that God chose him. To be front and center as a grown guy and see a guy like O.J. consider this a blessing, it really brings back a lot of memories for how I was raised. He's an inspiration to all of us."

Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.


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