Each week, we bring you a Q&A with a Ravens player, coach or team executive to help you learn a little more about the team. Today's guest is defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.
What is the measure of success for the defensive line?
I think as a position coach for the defensive line, [it is] to have guys that come to work every day and put it all on the line because there is a lot that goes on defensively and a lot of it starts up front. To be a solid, fundamentally sound unit that can play well against the run is always key. To be the best pass rushers we can be goes along with that. But the work ethic that it takes to go do that has been kind of key for us. Our guys work well, they take instruction, they want to be good, and that's been a blessing for a coach.
This season, the line has accounted for 15½ of the defense's 45 sacks, four of 19 forced fumbles and five of 11 fumble recoveries. How rewarding is that for you?
It's rewarding in the sense that our guys have been able to perform. They've been making plays, and when you have a chance to make a play, make a play. If you can knock a ball out, knock a ball out. If you can bat a ball down, bat a ball down. If you can recover a fumble, recover it. If you can sack a guy, sack him. I think our guys know that every play they have a chance to make is important. It is gratifying to see them be as productive as they have been, but they wouldn't be if they didn't believe in what we were doing and work hard for it.
Were you at all concerned that defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's production might slip after he inked the five-year, $61 million extension back in September?
No one has ever really asked me that, but no. This team is not built like that. This defensive room is not built like that. We've got two of the best players to ever play at their position in the game in [free safety] Ed [Reed] and [inside linebacker] Ray [Lewis], and they strive to be great every single day. Sizzle [outside linebacker Terrell Suggs], Double-J [outside linebacker Jarret Johnson], you can do down the list. All of the guys strive for something so that when the young guys come in — the [Terrence] Codys, the Arthur Joneses, the Pernell McPhees — they say, "Oh boy, I've got to get going." That's the way this room is built, and that's the way this team is built. This team is like that. Sitting back and resting on your laurels is not something that our guys do. They want to be great, and Haloti wants to be the best in the game, and he's striving to do that.
Prior to this season, defensive end Cory Redding had recorded more than three sacks in a single season just once (eight in 2006). Since he has 4½ thus far, what have you been doing with him?
It's Cory, it's Haloti, it's [defensive end] Pernell McPhee, it's [nose tackle Terrence] Cody, it's [defensive tackle] Arthur [Jones], it's [nose tackle] B-Mac [Brandon McKinney]. All the guys have worked together. You know the saying, "It takes a village to raise a child"? Well, it takes a lot of people to get a sack. If you talk to Sizzle, he will tell you that. His best friends are the corners. The more productive rusher Sizzle is, the better Cory Redding is going to be. A young man like Pernell McPhee comes in, and we really weren't sure what he was going to do. We knew that we didn't have him in the offseason, so we weren't sure what he was like. And he's come in and fit in pretty well. It's a pride thing. We didn't rush the quarterback as well as we wanted to a year ago, and we talked a lot about that as coaches and as we got the guys back here, we talked a lot about that in the preseason. That was a primary focus, and I've got to give a real big shout to Ted Monachino, who coaches the outside rushers and he does a tremendous job with it. There's been a total buy-in by the guys, and they understand that we're on our way to something good here. Someone like Cory who has been in the league for nine years already, it's great to see him have the fun he's been having.
Have you been surprised at Pernell McPhee's production (six sacks, 20 tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery) in his rookie season?
I would like to say that's what we anticipated, but you never know how a rookie's going to fit in. and especially with the way the offseason went, we were able to talk to Pernell the night we drafted him and then that was it. We didn't lay eyes on him physically until he showed up here for training camp. I'd like to say, "Oh yeah, we knew all along." But I'll tell you one thing, the one thing we did know was that he plays awfully hard. He was very productive down there at Mississippi State. You could see just the toughness in him when you watched the tape. So we knew we had a tough guy, and we knew we had a guy that played hard, and we knew we had a guy that was productive. We were hoping that all of those things would come forth as the season came, and one thing led to another, and he started making plays in the preseason. It's been good so far.
How has Terrence Cody adapted to the role that Kelly Gregg had occupied for so many years?
I think TC is an awfully talented kid. He loves football and is a student of the game. He's very smart and understands what's happening out there. He had a heck of an offseason on his own. He did well, came into camp, and picked it up. You know, it's hard in this business because one of the guys he talked to every day was Kelly Gregg. He could watch Kelly Gregg in practice, and Kelly talked to him all the time. There was a bond, a friendship there. When Kelly left, it shook TC a little bit because he was a friend. But guys know that we've got to go on, and as things have gone on, he's playing well. He's contributing, and he's a force for us on the inside. He's a young, developing player that we really expect big things from.
The defense has dealt with injuries to valuable players such as linebackers Ray Lewis and Dannell Ellerbe, cornerbacks Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Domonique Foxworth and Chris Carr and strong safety Tom Zbikowski. How have those setbacks tested this unit's depth?
"Next man up." It all started before I got here, and it surrounded [author John] Feinstein's book [of the same title]. The first day I walked in here, there was a copy of it on my desk, and I kind of picked it up and read it. They actually had one of those seasons where this guy got hurt, this guy goes in. This guy gets hurt, this guy goes in. Another guy gets hurt, this guy moves over here. They kind of patch-worked a season together by using that mentality. It's developed now and turned into "The more you can do." If you can play nose tackle, let's go learn the three-technique or the defensive end spot. If you can play inside linebacker, know this and know that. It's about putting the next best guy in the game. But the level of expectation — and that's one of the things that has been this way ever since I got here — here is, "I don't care if you're a rookie. If we put you on that field, you are expected to perform." I've been with a few teams, and I can say that the teams that I have been with, that wasn't always. Here, the expectation level stays the same. It's amazing how that has worked. One thing that we've done with [defensive coordinator] Chuck [Pagano] and the rest of the coaching staff is that we develop a lot of depth early on and we play a lot of guys. That's how you find out more about guys and more about what they can do and how they can get it done. When we can spell a Haloti Ngata, we can chop off a few plays early on in the game and by the end of the game, he's a lot fresher. Same with Cody, same with Cory. That's why you have guys like Brandon McKinney and Arthur Jones all working in a rotation. They know what's expected of them and what the team expects and what we expect as coaches. They've got a real, real strong bond to each other. Unlike some teams, they really don't want to be the guy that lets that guy down. That's kind of how it's been here, and it's gotten even more so. They just feel for one another and they want to do it for one another.
You are the longest-tenured defensive coach on staff, having worked with the team since 2005. What does that mean to you?
I don't know. [Laughs.] When John [Harbaugh] came in and I was asked to stay — which I wanted to do — it was very flattering of him to ask me to stay. I wanted to stay. I appreciate him for doing that because this is a great organization with great kids to coach. I still call them kids. I work with great men, and to be here for seven years, it's been a blessing. Knowing the way we've played defensively for the most part has been good. We've had real good kids to coach, and I've had real good guys to work with, fellow coaches on the staff, a lot of friends in the organization. So it means a lot to me to still be here.
One of the things that we all want to do is we all want to win championships, and we all want to be in a place where we can win those championships the quickest — and the most. I've been in this business for 19 years, and I've learned that if you're in a place and you've got a spot that you like and you're working with good people and you've got good players and the organization is headed in the direction that you like, why go somewhere else? I don't want to say you get comfortable, but you get to a point where you say, "Hey, I want to make this work, and I want to see if we can get this done here and I want to help get this done here." That's really what I wanted to do.
Do you have a desire to become a defensive coordinator and then perhaps a head coach?
Fifteen years ago, I might've said, "Heck yeah." What I desire to do right now is be the best defensive line coach I can possibly be, and I really mean that. If something else comes out of that, that's fine. If nothing else comes out of that, that's fine, too. I still have so much to learn myself, and I learn from these kids every day. I pick something up that maybe I didn't know about them or a better way to talk to them or another way to help them. That's the fun of coaching. The next day is completely different from the last one. It's a good profession.
Last year, a caller asked John Harbaugh on his weekly radio program why you still had a job with the Ravens, which invited a heated defense from John. What did you think about that at the time?
When I heard that, I said, "Well, that's Harbs." The one thing about John Harbaugh is he is a tremendously, fiercely loyal person, and if he thinks that one of his own is getting mistreated, you're going to have to deal with him first. That's how he is, and that's what he does, and everybody knows that. It does make you feel good that he didn't agree with [the caller]. [Laughs.] It makes you feel good that he didn't say, "You know what, you're right. I wonder why does this son of a gun still has a job here." And I'll tell you this: not all coaches are like that. The words coming out of another coach's mouth at the time might've sounded remarkably different from what John said. So I took a lot of stock in that.
Did it anger you that someone would questions your credentials and work with the defensive line?
No. I'm comfortable in what I do. I'm comfortable in who I am. I'm comfortable in how I work. I do have to understand that you have to put yourself in the seat of a fan, a guy who is paying good money to come out and watch us play. He's got high expectations, and the defense comes up with 27 sacks [as it did in 2010]. "What the hell is that?" I understand that. In my younger days, it might have upset me. Right now, I'm just like, "It is what it is." And maybe he was right. Some of my [players'] performances, I wasn't too happy with. But I try not to let it get to a point where I'd be pissed off about it. I just think, "You know what? Let's go out and do some things and work a little harder."
You played guard at the University of Massachusetts. How does an offensive lineman become a defensive line coach?
I was coaching the offensive line in my first job, and then I flipped over to coach linebackers at UMass. Then I went to Syracuse to coach outside linebackers and inside linebackers there. Then in my last couple years at Syracuse, it was the defensive line. When I got on defense, I had the idea to get back on offense at some point in time. But it never happened. And I got to figure out that hey, I really like this. I kind of like this side of the ball. That was different from when I had played, but I enjoy it.
You saw the much-publicized sideline exchange between New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in the Dec. 11 win against the Washington Redskins. Have you ever been involved in a fracas like that either as a player or as a coach?
I don't know. I know this: the sidelines are very volatile, an emotional area. Probably so, but it was probably during a time when there weren't a lot of cameras around. If you're one of the best quarterbacks in the league and you throw your helmet, somebody is going to notice that. Things like that happen when you've got two competitive people in a situation and all of a sudden, one guys says something that pushes another guy's hot button. It doesn't mean that they don't like each other. It doesn't mean that they have a big problem. They have a problem at that moment, and they get it settled. Hey, I remember losing my temper and yelling and screaming, and I remember a kid maybe yelling and screaming back. But at some point, you say, "It is what it is. Let's move on."