Ravens

Quick Links

Reunited with Fox, Del Rio charges up Denver 'D'

201211151447532497788-p2.jpeg

Reunited with Fox, Del Rio charges up Denver 'D'

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) There are a few more lines around the eyes, each of them a symbol of some lesson learned during a head-coaching tenure that lasted nearly a decade, had its share of success but ended badly for Jack Del Rio in Jacksonville.

Some things, however, haven't changed.

The Broncos defensive coordinator, now 49 and reunited with John Fox in the same role he had a decade ago in Carolina, is still a formidable presence whenever he walks onto a football field. And the schemes the NFL linebacker-turned-coach crafts still make life very difficult for offenses around the league.

Asked to describe his approach to defense without using the word ``aggressive'' - because, really, what defensive coordinator doesn't want to be aggressive? - Del Rio laughed.

``Aggressive,'' he said. ``I don't know. There are a lot of good people out there doing a lot of good things. From my standpoint, the No. 1 thing we want to do is create a culture where players understand the things they're being asked to do. That they build a confidence playing for each other, with each other. And that in the end, you play fast.''

Denver's seventh defensive coordinator in seven years has the Broncos (6-3) playing fast, and at a level this defense hasn't reached in a while. Yes, they are ranked a more-than-respectable sixth in yards allowed and 10th in points allowed, in the running to finish with the best statistics in those categories since the mid-2000s. But they are also ranked second in sacks per pass play and, with four touchdowns and a pair of safeties, are making the kind of plays that swing games.

They are building a reputation as a swarming, playmaking and, yes, aggressive group, which is just how Del Rio coaches it, especially when the talent is there to make it happen. Had it worked this well in Jacksonville over the past few years, the coach might still be there. Instead, he got released 11 games into last season with a 69-73 career record.

Some might have sat it out for a while, let some wounds heal and, in Del Rio's case, collected some easy paychecks, which could have totaled up to around $5 million.

Not this coach, who Thursday was standing in the midst of his defenders at the start of practice, shouting, listening, correcting and at one point, insisting the players ``get this (expletive) down'' by the end of the day.

``I love coaching,'' he said. ``And this was a good opportunity for me to get hooked up with a guy I respect and a program that's first class.''

Indeed, when Fox came calling, Del Rio knew he could get right back into his comfort zone: Coaching defense alongside one of the men he came up with; working in the room with players; getting back to the kind of routine that wasn't available as much when he was a head coach, where PR, delegating to staff and big-picture decision-making often overshadows the Xs and Os.

``That's something you probably kind of miss after a while,'' Fox said. ``It kind of re-energizes you. I think he's having fun doing it.''

No doubt, Del Rio said.

``When we interviewed, I said, `Hey, I don't mind being an assistant strength coach again,''' Del Rio said. ``I love ball with the right people, right organization. I love to be a member on the staff and going through the grind and having my feet in the grass and having a chance to touch some players. That's what I have a passion for.''

Del Rio's last two stops in his 11-year NFL playing career were in Dallas, where he played for Jimmy Johnson, and Minnesota, where Tony Dungy was the defensive coordinator. It was Johnson's ``all-in mentality,'' as Del Rio called it, and Dungy's ability to coach, teach but not dwell on failure that got Del Rio thinking about the kind of coach he'd like to be someday.

He started in New Orleans as, yes, the assistant strength coach, then moved to Baltimore to coach the linebackers from 1999-2001. Led by Ray Lewis, the Ravens won the Super Bowl in 2001. Del Rio left Baltimore to join Fox in Carolina in 2002, where he transformed the defense from 32nd-ranked to second in the span of a season.

Impressed with that sudden bout of success, and looking to inject some new, young energy into the franchise after firing Tom Coughlin, Jaguars owner Wayne Weaver bypassed coaches with more experience and took a chance on Del Rio, who with blue eyes, blond hair, standing 6-foot-4 and still close to his 240-pound playing weight was a made-for-TV presence in a city looking for a football star.

He had also proven he could coach a little, though the perils of going with a guy who had never been the head man reared their head early. There was the infamous tree stump Del Rio put in the locker room. Message: Keep chopping wood, but when punter Chris Hanson did, he swung the ax nearly through his shin and had to be rushed to the hospital.

The coach had trouble managing changes at the quarterback position involving Mark Brunell, Byron Leftwich and David Garrard. There was a revolving door of assistant coaches and two playoff appearances to show for eight-plus years on the job.

Through it all, though, the players played hard for Del Rio. And, of course, staying in the same job for that long in the NFL is a victory of sorts, no matter how it ends.

``Certainly, I'm a much better coach now,'' Del Rio said. ``I got a wealth of experience. You learn from good and bad. I feel like a better coach at this point. I still have all my fire and desire and energy, which is why I'm doing what I'm doing now.''

By returning to his roots - running the defense - Del Rio gets to go back to what he's best at: Connecting with players, devising schemes that bring out their best, which, in Del Rio's mind, is what coaching is supposed to be all about.

``When I was in college, I started hearing about him and we used to watch the Jaguars defense,'' said Broncos linebacker Wesley Woodyard, who leads the team in tackles and has earned an AFC Defensive Player of the Week honor in Del Rio's scheme. ``They used to always talk about him and the stuff he runs. He's one of those guys who's always amped and believes in his players. And him being a past linebacker, it makes it easier for us to follow him, look up to him and believe in him.''

The subplot in all this is that the success of the Denver defense could make Del Rio a popular choice to become a head coach again. That's a particularly delicate topic for the Broncos, who lost Dennis Allen to the Raiders after last season and haven't had a defensive coordinator serve back-to-back seasons since Larry Coyer from 2003-06.

No problem from the boss's point of view.

``Whenever you hire an assistant coach, you want them to have high aspirations,'' Fox said. ``You want to hire people who may have that ability. Otherwise, you're not hiring the best people.''

Del Rio says he doesn't look beyond the next Sunday, which in this case is a rematch with the Chargers. If Denver wins, it takes a three-game lead in the AFC West. Knowing far more about life as a head coach than when he took the job in Jacksonville, Del Rio says there's no rush to move up the ladder again.

``When you're a young guy and you haven't been there, the urgency and desire to get that opportunity is such that you'd take just about any job given to you,'' Del Rio said. ``I don't feel that way now. If there's something that fits and the right situation comes along, so be it. But in the meantime, I'm all in, 100 percent as a lieutenant on this staff. I'm somebody that John Fox, John Elway ... and the players can count on. I'm 100 percent invested in helping them be their best.''

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

martindale.png
AP Images

Ravens defensive coordinator Don Martindale welcomes second chance at role

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don Martindale wondered if he would ever get a second chance to be an NFL defensive coordinator after his one-and-done disaster with the Denver Broncos in 2010.

The Broncos went 4-12 that season and gave up more points (29.4 per game) and yards (390.8) than any team in the league. Those miserable numbers, not surprisingly, cost Martindale his job.

He latched on with the Baltimore Ravens in 2012 as linebackers coach. After working diligently with several stars, including Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, Zachary Orr and C.J. Mosley, the 54-year-old Martindale last week was promoted to defensive coordinator.

RELATED: WHO WERE THE RAVENS' MVP'S IN 2017?

To say he's pleased to be in charge of an NFL defense again would be a profound understatement.

"Without a doubt," Martindale said Thursday. "My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can't wait."

His performance in Denver eight years ago is hardly worth putting on a resume, but Martindale believes it was a worthwhile experience.

"Even though the stats were what they were, I was really proud with how we played," he said. "I'm glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It's like I tell my guys: You either win or you learn."

Martindale's new job with the Ravens carries the responsibility of overseeing a unit that has long been among the best in the NFL, thriving under notable leaders such as Marvin Lewis, Rex Ryan, Chuck Pagano and Dean Pees, who retired on Jan. 1.

"I've been preparing for this job all my life," Martindale said. "It's very humbling, but I understand the pressure and I look forward to the challenge."

Martindale takes over a defense that this season ranked 12th in net yards allowed, first in takeaways (34) and sixth in fewest points allowed (18.9). He has no plans to revamp the unit or change the philosophy, especially since head coach John Harbaugh stressed the need to retain continuity before launching his search for Pees' replacement.

RELATED: CALVIN RIDLEY A TOP PROSPECT FOR RAVENS IN 2018 DRAFT

Martindale will, however, put his own stamp on the unit.

"I think personality-wise, and just calls, there's going to be some things that are the same. And then there are going to be sometimes where I'm going to pressure more," Martindale said. "I just think I have a more aggressive personality in calling the game. Sometimes, too aggressive. That's some of the things I've learned from the past."

His most daunting task will be finding a way to make the defense to come up big late in the game. In 2016, a fourth-quarter collapse in Pittsburgh cost Baltimore a playoff berth. This season, a fourth-down touchdown pass in the final minute by Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton bounced the Ravens from the postseason chase.

"Our mantra has always been to finish," Martindale said. "We're close. Obviously, the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football.

"That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We were really good. Let's make it great."

Quick Links

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

mvps.png
USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

RELATED: RAVENS' 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT ROUNDUP

Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

RELATED: FIVE OFFSEASON QUESTIONS RAVENS MUST ANSWER

Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.