CHANGES

Ravens, Ti­tans happy with how de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor shift played out

Baltimore Sun - - SPORTS - By Childs Walker for

As far as the Ravens were con­cerned, the good­bye was fi­nal.

Dean Pees seemed un­equiv­o­cal when he met with play­ers be­fore they cleaned out their lock­ers on New Year’s Day 2018. Af­ter 45 years of foot­ball, cov­er­ing more than 600 games and 6,000 prac­tices, Pees felt ready to stop de­sign­ing de­fenses and start play­ing with grand­kids. He would re­tire with no re­grets.

Twenty-eight days later, he was de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor of the Ten­nessee Ti­tans, the team the Ravens are pre­par­ing to play Sun­day, 4:25 p.m. TV: Ch. 13, 9 Ra­dio: 97.9 FM, 1090 AM Line: Ravens by 21⁄ Sun­day in Nashville.

Pees said that when Ti­tans coach Mike Vra­bel pur­sued him, he “kept miss­ing the game more and more,” a sur­pris­ing state­ment from some­one who’d re­tired less than a month ear­lier. The move also of­fered him the chance to work with his son, Matt, whom the Ti­tans hired as a qual­ity con­trol as­sis­tant.

So here he is, in the odd po­si­tion of do­ing the same job against the Ravens that he was do­ing them at this time last year. Both sides might be bet­ter off. Pees, 69, has im­proved the Ten­nessee de­fense from 17th to third in points al­lowed, with par­tic­u­lar suc­cess on third down.

“Dean has al­ways been a great coach,” Vra­bel said Wed­nes­day on a con­fer­ence call with Bal­ti­more re­porters. “He was a coach of mine. I ad­mired what he did from afar in Bal­ti­more, and when the op­por­tu­nity pre­sented it­self, I tried to take ad­van­tage

of it. The guys re­ally like him. Re­plac­ing [pre­vi­ous de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor] Dick LeBeau any­where is not an easy thing to do, and I was very aware of that, but I felt like we needed a change, and Dean has been every­thing that I had hoped for.”

The Ravens, mean­while, rank third in to­tal de­fense and first in scor­ing de­fense un­der new co­or­di­na­tor Don “Wink” Martin­dale, com­pared to 12th in to­tal de­fense and sixth in scor­ing de­fense in 2017. It’s not a per­fect com­par­i­son, be­cause sev­eral of Pees’ Bal­ti­more de­fenses also jumped to fe­ro­cious starts be­fore fall­ing off late.

But lis­ten­ing to play­ers talk about the ag­gres­sion and adapt­abil­ity of Martin­dale’s de­fense, there’s no sense they re­gret the switch.

Martin­dale worked for Pees as the team’s lineback­ers coach, and many of his over­ar­ch­ing prin­ci­ples are sim­i­lar. But he re­tooled the op­er­a­tion from top to bot­tom in the off­sea­son with an eye to­ward im­prov­ing on-field com­mu­ni­ca­tions and flex­i­bil­ity.

“I think the com­mu­ni­ca­tion,” safety Eric Wed­dle said when asked what he likes best about Martin­dale. “He’s very open [with] game-plan­ning. … It’s not just one guy. Ob­vi­ously, he’s lead­ing us, but by his lead­er­ship and the as­sis­tant coaches, we’re all do­ing and be­liev­ing in the same goal. I just think we’re pre­pared for a lot of sit­u­a­tions that come up, and it shows in crit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions.”

Such words of praise — and there have been many for Martin­dale since he took over — can al­ways be in­ter­preted as back­handed slaps at the pre­vi­ous coach. But Wed­dle said that’s not the case.

“Along the same lines, they’re very sim­i­lar,” he said when asked what he most ap­pre­ci­ated about Pees. “He was very open if I ever had any­thing that came up with what I thought with schemes or blitzes or the way we ran cov­er­ages or things like that. So, he was an amaz­ing man, great coach — noth­ing but great things my two years with him. It was tough to see him go. And then ob­vi­ously, see­ing him go back into coach­ing, we were all happy for him, be­cause we know how much he loves coach­ing. But he’s with them now. We ap­pre­ci­ate what he did here, but we’re do­ing our thing now, and he’s do­ing his.”

Few in Bal­ti­more seemed ea­ger to talk about Pees this week.

“I don’t sit and re­flect on things like that,” Martin­dale said when asked about their time to­gether. “What we’re con­cerned with is [quar­ter­back Mar­cus] Mar­i­ota and the Ti­tans of­fense right now. We haven’t even brought it up. I think that any­time I re­flect Ravens coach John Har­baugh, right, pro­moted Don Martin­dale to de­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor when DEan Pees an­nounced his plan to re­tire from coach­ing. on some­thing like that, I’m tak­ing away from get­ting pre­pared for this game.”

Ravens coach John Har­baugh said it would be point­less to spec­u­late which side might hold a tac­ti­cal ad­van­tage in Sun­day’s game.

“I feel like I can make most of the calls,” he ac­knowl­edged when asked what it’s like watch­ing the Ti­tans de­fense on tape.

Pees watched his de­fend­ers prac­tice against quar­ter­back Joe Flacco for eight years. At the same time, Flacco and Ravens of­fen­sive co­or­di­na­tor Marty Morn­hin­weg spent plenty of time con­fronting Pees’ schemes. “It goes both ways,” Flacco said. Har­baugh will al­ways keep warm feel­ings for his long­time co­or­di­na­tor.

“Dean means a lot to me per­son­ally, and he did a good job here,” he said. “He put a lot of good de­fenses to­gether here in Bal­ti­more. I hope the fans un­der­stand that and be­lieve that. There are a lot of heart­break­ing mo­ments for ev­ery team around the league.”

Abrupt job changes are the norm for foot­ball coaches. Even so, this one in­duced a bit of whiplash in Bal­ti­more, where Pees went from a folksy in­sti­tu­tion to the en­emy in less than a month.

Vra­bel said he called Har­baugh and Ravens gen­eral man­ager Ozzie New­some to ask for their bless­ing be­fore he con­tacted Pees about an in­ter­view. He said they were fine with it and that Pees weighed the move for a few days be­fore com­mit­ting.

Though Pees was not made avail­able to Bal­ti­more re­porters this week, he has pro­fessed noth­ing but hap­pi­ness about his new en­vi­ron­ment. “There re­ally is some­thing to South­ern hospi­tal­ity,” he told the Ten­nessee me­dia Wed­nes­day.

For the last ques­tion of his farewell news con­fer­ence on New Year’s Day, Pees was asked how he would spend game days this au­tumn.

“Root for the Ravens!” he said. “I wanted to re­tire a Raven, so I’ll be cheer­ing for the Ravens.”

“Who knows what will hap­pen?” he added.

Sage words.

PA­TRICK SEMANSKY/AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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