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Ravens' coaching staff has done a Super job this season

John Harbaugh never is mentioned as a coach of the year candidate, but he and his assistants have been tremendous in guiding Baltimore through a difficult season.

January 21, 2013|By Mike Preston
  • John Harbaugh handled the Xs and Os, as well as everything that could have been a distraction.
John Harbaugh handled the Xs and Os, as well as everything that could have… (Nick Wass / Associated Press )

The Baltimore Ravens' coaching staff might be a victim of the front office's success and its ability to draft or sign good players.

You never hear John Harbaugh mentioned as a possible NFL coach of the year. Brian Billick was never a serious candidate either, even though he had a good run in Baltimore from 1999 until 2008.

Few of the experts expected the Ravens to win the AFC North, much less play in the Super Bowl in New Orleans. A 9-7 or 8-8 record was a more realistic possibility.

But to say the Ravens were just a team of destiny would cheapen some of the things they accomplished in 2012. When you look back at the injuries, staff changes and young players, the Ravens are on a remarkable run because of the strong coaching.

Just look at first-year defensive coordinator Dean Pees.

He had to follow in the footsteps of such other former Ravens coordinators as Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan and Chuck Pagano. But at least most of them had inside linebacker Ray Lewis in his prime.

Pees got an old Lewis and an old Ed Reed. His defense was minus its former signal caller, Jarret Johnson, and its best defensive end, Cory Redding. His best cover corner, Lardarius Webb, was lost for the season early in the season because of a knee injury, and Lewis, linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Bernard Pollard also missed extensive time because of injuries.

Pees also had to work with a lot of new starters, such as end Arthur Jones, outside linebackers Paul Kruger, Courtney Upshaw and Albert McClellan, and cornerbacks Corey Graham and Chykie Brown.

Pees changed up his coverages on the back end and the Ravens became more physical. They certainly became better tacklers. The Ravens can play an attacking style or play bend-but-don't-break, as they did the last two weeks against star quarterbacks Peyton Manning and Tom Brady.

There are no more questions about Pees' coaching abilities.

"I think Dean is a great leader. I think we have a great staff," Harbaugh said. "And Ed [Reed] alluded to it — coaches and players working together to make each other better. That's kind of a motto that we had. And Dean did a great job transitioning really what is a young defense.

"When you look at our defense a bit, it's become a young defense. We needed to adjust what we we're doing a little bit schematically and we did that. We got back to playing. We got to playing those guys in a very fundamentally sound way. And it showed up in the way we played defense in the second half of this season."

The Ravens showed improvement on the other side of the ball as well. Few people have heard of tight ends coach Wade Harmon, but he developed Todd Heap and now has another potential great in Dennis Pitta.

Running backs coach Wilbert Montgomery helped cultivate the talents of Marshall Faulk and Steven Jackson in St. Louis, and now has Ray Rice and rookie Bernard Pierce on his resume.

And then there is Harbaugh. After a 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins, he fired offensive coordinator Cam Cameron even though the Ravens were 9-4.

Harbaugh also shuffled the offensive line. He took Bryant McKinnie out of the doghouse and into the starting lineup at left tackle. He moved Michael Oher to right tackle and Kelechi Osemele to left guard.

With Jim Caldwell running the offense and calling plays, the Ravens have been reborn. Quarterback Joe Flacco has been playing well, and seems more at ease now than ever.

But this isn't all about Xs and O's. Harbaugh has handled the Ray Lewis retirement tour well, even though it could have been distracting.

There's more to coaching than many think. The staff has to know the personality of the team and maintain its pulse. And the Ravens still are alive.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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