Slow, Steady Installation On Defense Is Pees' Approach
NOTEBOOK: J. SMITH LEAVES PRACTICE; SESSION RUNDOWN
By Joe Platania
OWINGS MILLS -- At first glance, you would think first-year Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees wouldn't be happy about a pass completion.
Midway through Saturday afternoon's padded training-camp practice at the Under Armour Performance Center, Joe Flacco rolled to his right and fired an accurate pass to tight end Dennis Pitta.
But at that moment, a voice could be heard yelling, "Great drop, Jameel!"
It was the 63-year-old Pees, looking below the surface of the play to ferret out a subtle nuance of the game -- linebacker Jameel McClain falling back into a coverage zone -- that, to him, was executed properly.
Beyond the yearly questions concerning the Ravens' pass rush, cover skills and -- in some places -- dates of birth, Pees is simultaneously maintaining the team's mostly aggressive tendencies with his own slow, steady installation pace of the particulars.
"Right now, it's just a little piece at a time," Pees said. "The installation is going to be spread out over the course of camp. The whole defense isn't going in over the course of just one day.
"So, what we have in might not be the perfect situation for what we have that day. But at least we'll get it on film and have the guys coached up.
"By day eight or nine, that's when everything sort of solidifies."
The reason Pees is the team's sixth defensive coordaintor in franchise history -- following in the footsteps of Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan, Greg Mattison and Chuck Pagano -- is that his resume is as solid as his units.
Many thought that Pees, a former Navy secondary coach, was likely to continue the defensive schemes installed by Pagano, who left to take the Indianapolis Colts' head-coaching job.
That speculation has been proven correct; Pees' charges have had an aggressive mindset during the first week of training camp, especially the linebacking corps that he mentored for the past two seasons.
During Pees' four-year tenure as New England’s defensive coordinator -- which included the team's perfect 2007 regular season and 18-game winning streak, which ended in Super Bowl XLII -- the Patriots were the only team in the NFL to finish in the top 10 in scoring defense each season.
New England allowed fewer than 20 points per game every year during the four years Pees was in charge of head coach Bill Belichick's defense. Pees replaced Eric Mangini -- a former Ravens quality control coach in 1996 -- when the latter left to become the head coach of the New York Jets.
But Pees, who has rendered his voice scratchy because of his grind-it-out style, is also installing his own imprimatur on the defense.
It looks to be one that includes a good mix of using the kind of speed the modern-day NFL game demands, as well as the toughness that comes from some of the nation's best college programs.
"Well, the terminology is different [from Alabama] in some ways," top draft pick Courtney Upshaw said. "But with coach Pees, we talked about it, and he said that it's the same thing basically if you really think about it. And actually going back, studying it and repping it is the same way -- the technique, everything.
"Coach Pees, as a coach in general, I feel he's one of the best. Playing for him is going to be a great experience for me and help my game improve."
Strong safety Bernard Pollard has endorsed the double-edged Pees approach.
"Dean wants us to play hard and fast," Pollard said, "and I think he doesn'’t want to change the Raven way. As long as we go out there and play Raven football, coach Pees is stepping in and he's the signal caller. He's letting us know what to do. We've got to go out there and play. As long as we're playing hard and fast, as long as we're playing Raven football, we can't be beat.
"I think whenever we start to get tired, whenever we start to think, 'We can't be beat,' or [we] just get lackadaisical, that's not Raven football, and we've gotten those losses. I think you guys have seen that all of last year. When we stepped away from it, we lost. But I think we’re untouchable when we play Raven football.”
Nose tackle Terrence Cody had a more succinct assessment.
"Dean has many personalities," he said. "I'd have to say, just play wild -- just be you and just go out there and whoop somebody's behind."
Even while allowing the occasional pass completion, it's the only not-so-subtle nuance that really matters.
INFIRMARY: Conerback Jimmy Smith has fought cramping problems the past two days, which limited his participation in Saturday afternoon's padded practice to the point that he left the field before it ended. There was no immediate word on the severity of his condition.
But at least Smith and wideout Tandon Doss, who also fought cramps on Friday, did return to the field, as did cornerback Lardarius Webb (personal matter), who is not thought to have any physical concerns.
Guard Justin Boren (undisclosed) and tackle Ramon Harewood (ankle) were still out, as well as those Ravens that are on the various leaguewide lists.
Physically Unable To Perform: wideout David Reed (ACL surgery), defensive end Pernell McPhee (arthroscopic knee surgery), guard/tackle Jah Reid (calf), defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (hamstring)
Reserve/Did Not Report: tackle Bryant McKinnie, who contnues to incur a $30,000 daily fine
Reserve/Non-Football Injury: linebacker Terrell Suggs (Achilles tendon surgery)
PRACTICE REPORT: Saturday afternoon's padded practice, the first such session of training camp, took place in cooler, but humid conditions outdoors.
So far, the team has not yet needed to move to its indoor field because of lightning or heavy rain. Last year, five of 17 practices were taken inside at the last minute. There are only 14 training-camp practices on this year's schedule.
After Sunday's off day, the team will hit the field for five consecutive practices at the UAPC -- the most back-to-back on-site sessions allowed as part of the new collective-bargaining agreement -- before working out at M&T Bank Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Here are a few of Saturday's highlights:
- Harbaugh usually likes to pump in crowd noise at practices held before road games, but on Saturday, he blasted a mixture of rock, rap and heavy metal tunes to get the players acclimated to home-game conditions (although his air-guitar moves were probably more shocking to the players). Among those artists played were AC/DC, The Who and Ozzy Osbourne. The fan-favorite song "Seven Nation Army" was also featured.
- Former New York Jets receiver Logan Payne, a possible sleeper candidate to snag a roster spot, made a falling-down, over-the-shoulder catch toward the end of practice.
- No one could cover Payne on that play, but cornerback/special teamer Corey Graham had an outstanding day with several passes defended and two interceptions. He stepped in front of Tandon Doss' sitdown route and ran it all the way back, but quarterback Joe Flacco impressively chased him down to the goal line. Graham's other pickoff was a one-handed gem.
- Top draft pick Courtney Upshaw did a good job bouncing off a pile to go in the opposite direction to stop a ball-carrier.
- Even though the early padded team period was not live, but rather a thump drill -- no one was allowed to go to the ground -- safety Bernard Pollard was rather feisty after the whistle, accidentally clotheslining Ray Rice at one point. Also, nose tackle Ryan McBean brought Damien Berry down hard at the point of attack.
- After a Friday practice when penalties were on the decrease, several illegal-formation calls were made on the offense. Not only that, two false starts would have nullifed touchdown catches by Anquan Boldin and Torrey Smith. Also, backup tackle Jack Cornell held defensive end Bryan Hall -- who has been having a fine camp -- but no call was made.
- Backup quarterback Tyrod Taylor mishandled a shotgun snap, but dashed to the end-zone pylon, where several tacklers buried him. In fact, the bulk of the live hitting was saved for red-zone and goal-line plays; there was a pile of at least eight players after one explosive moment.
- Flacco continues to show great rapport with tight end Dennis Pitta, but he also hit Boldin on an outstanding fade throw to the back of the end zone.
- Wideout Jacoby Jones has done a good job holding onto the ball in camp, but he juggled a sideline pass that was picked off by linebacker Albert McClellan, who showed great speed in running it all the way back.
- Neither placekicker blinked as the camp-long competition continued to be dead even. Both Billy Cundiff, who is under contract until 2015, and rookie Justin Tucker converted field-goal tries of 30, 41, 51 and 55 yards. They are both 17-for-17 through three days of camp.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Baltimore is considered Atlantic Coast Conference country, but because the ACC's football fortunes have been sagging lately, few would argue with what Michael Oher said about top draft pick and Alabama alum Courtney Upshaw.
"He's going to be a great player," said Oher, a Mississippi grad. "[He's] physical. He comes from the best conference in [college] football -- the SEC -- so you know how that goes."
JOEY P'S TRIVIA TIME ANSWER: Here's the question we asked you in our last entry:
The NFL has tried to globalize its brand to the point that there is now talk of putting an expansion franchise in London, where the Summer Olympics opened this weekend.
Speaking of international games, the NFL has played 10 regular-season contests and 57 preseason games in foreign countries from 1950-2011.
True or False: a Baltimore-based NFL team has never played an international game.
Given the number of games that have been played overseas and the time span in which it has taken to play them, it's rather surprising that neither the Baltimore Colts nor Ravens have ever taken part in one.
Taking the NFL schedule rotation into account, it will be at least several more years before the Ravens even get that chance.
The St. Louis Rams are now under contract to play a regular-season game in London during each of the next three seasons, thanks in part to owner Stan Kroenke's tie-in with the well-known Arsenal soccer club of North London.
But, because the Ravens and Rams met in 2011, they wouldn't play each other again until 2015, after the London contract runs out. At that point, the teams would meet in Baltimore, which would further prohibit a London date, because the Rams are giving up home games to go there.
As for the Baltimore Colts, they played preseason games in far-flung, diverse locales as New Haven, Conn; Roanoke, Va; Hershey, Pa.; and Lubbock, Texas, but not one in a foreign country.
Posted July 28, 2012