The Ravens hired Joe Cullen in January to serve as their defensive line coach while Clarence Brooks continues to undergo treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Brooks' treatment has including radiation, chemotherapy and surgery to fight off esophageal cancer.
It will be a tall task for Cullen to replace Brooks until he is hopefully well enough to return. Brooks was hired in 2005 and is the longest tenured coach on the team, while also being regarded by the players as one of the most popular and respected figures in the organization.
Cullen comes to Baltimore from Tampa Bay with a strong pedigree. The Buccaneers originally refused to grant interview requests for Cullen following the dismissal of Lovie Smith after the 2015 season, since they were considering him for the defensive coordinator role until new head coach Dirk Cotter brought in Mike Smith to spearhead his defense.
Cullen played nose guard in college and has a combined nine years of experience as an NFL defensive line coach. His NFL coaching stints include time with the Lions, Jaguars, Browns and Buccaneers. Cullen has been instrumental in the development of some of the better defensive lineman in the game today, namely Cliff Avril, Tyson Alualu, Gerald McCoy and William Gholston.
Over the last two seasons in Tampa Bay, Cullen's defensive line has allowed the NFL's third fewest yards per rush. Last season, their defensive line totaled 26 and a half sacks. For comparison, the Ravens three man defensive line produced twelve and a half sacks in 2015. Cullen also helped Cleveland's defense improve from 23rd to 9th in 2013.
At the Ravens rookie mini-camp, Cullen described himself as a high energy and intense coach. He was very vocal on the practice field. The points of emphasis he was focusing on with the young defensive lineman were pad level and hand usage.
The Ravens added Bronson Kaufusi and Willie Henry, two defensive lineman with immense upside, in the 2016 draft. They will be competing for snaps among the stable of talented lineman including Brandon Williams, Timmy Jernigan, Carl Davis, Lawrence Guy and Brent Urban.
Cullen's coaching style should be effective in bringing out the best from this group. That bodes well for the Ravens pass defense, as nothing bothers a quarterback more than pressure in his face. Even better, Clarence Brooks is expected to return to the Ravens at some point in 2016.