R. Ryan Takes Baltimore Defense Back to '86 With the 46

By Camille Powell
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, June 14, 2005

OWINGS MILLS, Md., June 13 -- The defining image of Ray Lewis is this: The Baltimore Ravens' linebacker furiously pursues a running back, then brings him down with a devastating tackle. The Ravens are hoping that a switch to the 46 defense -- which itself is associated with aggression and attitude -- will result in more of those kind of plays this season.

"The scheme's got to fit your players," Lewis said on Monday as the Ravens began their four-day mandatory minicamp. "My thing is bashing running backs. That's what I want to get back to, just having fun and letting them deal with me. That's what the 46 package and the defense does."

Defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who was promoted from defensive line coach after Mike Nolan left to coach the San Francisco 49ers, is implementing the 46 defense, which was made famous by his father. Buddy Ryan devised the 46 defense -- in which eight players crowd the line and blitz frequently -- for the Chicago Bears, who won the 1986 Super Bowl.

"We're going to be aggressive," Ryan said last month during the team's media clinic. "We're not just going to play the 46 because my dad is going to kick my [rear] or something. We're going to play it because it makes sense. This defense is hard to block."

In its basic formation, the 46 has a nose tackle, two defensive ends, two linebackers and a "rush backer" all along the line of scrimmage. The middle linebacker and strong safety are the second line of defense.

In the Ravens' version, Lewis will be like Mike Singletary, a middle linebacker who is able to roam in pursuit of the ballcarrier. Terrell Suggs, who has 22 1/2 sacks in two seasons, will be like Richard Dent, a "rush backer" whose primary job will be to get to the quarterback. Safety Will Demps will fill the role of Doug Plank (whose uniform number gave the defense its name), dropping behind the linemen as an extra linebacker.

"We have a special group of corners, we have some people that can bring [pressure] off of the edge," Coach Brian Billick said. "It fits Ray and his expertise in the middle. It fits us very well."

Baltimore used a 3-4 alignment (three linemen and four linebackers) during Nolan's three seasons as defensive coordinator. Teams were able to send extra blockers against Lewis last season, which limited his effectiveness at times. Still, the seven-time Pro Bowler led the Ravens with 200 tackles, according to coaches' film review.

"It's always tough, because then that's when you have to humble yourself and you've got to take coaching and you have to do whatever they tell you to do," said Lewis, when asked what it was like to play in a scheme that was not necessarily designed for him to go after running backs. "Whether it takes away from your game or it helps your game, just deal with it. That's what I did. It didn't alter how I prepared, it didn't alter my passion for the game. But at the same time, it alters how dominant I can be in this game."

Lewis is looking forward to the change.

"To come into camp and have my defensive coordinator say you won't be touched, I feel like a kid all over again," Lewis said. "I don't go out and try to bash people and then get to the football. No, I get to the running back. No running back wants to face me in this league."

Ravens Notes: Jury selection was completed in Suggs's aggravated assault trial on Monday in Phoenix, and opening arguments are scheduled for Wednesday morning. Suggs faces two counts of aggravated assault stemming from an incident in March 2003. Suggs, who is excused from this week's minicamp, rejected a potential plea agreement last month. . . .

Lewis declined to answer questions regarding whether he wants to renegotiate his contract, saying that "there's an appropriate time to talk about everything, and now is not the time." Lewis has four years left on his current contract and there was speculation that he would skip camp because he wants a new deal. . . .

Billick joined the linemen as the players ran wind sprints after practice, but the coach dropped out before the workout was complete. "Brian, this message is for you: Go work out," linebacker Adalius Thomas said with a laugh after practice. "Stop playing racquetball and run some half-gassers."

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