The Ravens announced last week that former All-Pro linebacker turned linebackers coach Zach Orr would be promoted to defensive coordinator after the departure of Mike Macdonald. On Tuesday, the Ravens and Orr held an introductory press conference. Here are my takeaways from the nearly 30-minute presser.
No John Harbaugh?
When sitting down, it was noted that there was only one chair and no Diet Coke at the table, meaning it wasn’t likely that Head Coach John Harbaugh would be joining Orr for the introduction for its full length. Though it would’ve been nice to have Harbaugh as he was beside Macdonald for his introductory presser, some expected it to be like Offensive Coordinator Todd Monken’s introduction, where he gave an opening remark and exited, likely fueled by the Lamar Jackson contract drama. But Harbaugh was not there.
Harbaugh fielded a couple questions on Orr’s promotion during the season review press conference, but I imagine I wasn’t the only one holding off on asking Orr-related questions until Wednesday for said presser, as there were other important things to ask Harbaugh and General Manager Eric DeCosta. Hearing more on Harbaugh’s decision to promote Orr over other candidates or him keeping Orr from heading to Seattle to help coach the Seahawks with Macdonald would’ve been good to learn more on.
Alas, Harbaugh was absent, which did give greater opportunity to learn from the soon-to-be play caller.
First-Class Organization, From Top to Bottom
Culture matters. Building trust and long-lasting relationships breeds positivity and that can be said of Orr’s career, as he went from an undrafted linebacker, who went from four defensive snaps his rookie season and being a special teamer to dominating and earning All-Pro in 2016 and taking 961 defensive snaps. But due to a congenital neck/spine issue, Orr was forced to medically retire. That wasn’t the end of Orr’s NFL career though, due to a phone call from team owner Steve Bisciotti.
“But [Bisciotti] called me [and said], ‘Man, I understand you wanted to get into coaching. We think highly of you, [and] everybody speaks the world of you. I’ve seen you work. Everybody says you’re a hard worker, and I know you want to get into coaching,’” Orr said of the phone call. “He was like, ‘I would love to have you back in the organization, if that’s something you want to do.’ And he was like, ‘We’ll get [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome] in contact with you.’ So, I said, ‘Great.’ I said, ‘Thank you. I’ll be right back.’”
That recognition from Bisciotti helped keep Orr afloat. It kept him from the disappointment of not giving his all to the game he desperately wanted to. Orr penned a story in The Player’s Tribune titled “Always a Raven” that showed he spoke with multiple doctors from the Ravens staff and a spine specialist they referred him to. But no team would clear him.
Coaching for the Ravens helped Orr avoid the lingering disappointment of hanging up his cleats far too early than he wanted.
““It did, man. It did. And that’s why ... I tell people all the time, ‘I bleed purple and black.’ This organization, [it] means something to me. This means a little more to me. It’s not just me just coaching in the National Football League just for any other organization. No, I’m coaching for the organization that had my back. When I went through what I went through, they didn’t allow me to really put my head down. I didn’t know what the next step was going to be; boom, [head] Coach [John] Harbaugh, [executive vice president] Ozzie [Newsome], Mr. [Steve] Bisciotti, they called me, [and] they said, ‘Hey, I know you want to get into coaching. You’re coming right back up here and getting ready to work with us.’ And them doing that for me just shows that they had my back in a tough situation, so they’re going to get everything I’ve got out of me. And like I said, it means something; I bleed purple and black.”
Building Off Predecessors
Two years ago, nearly to the day, Macdonald was introduced as the Ravens new defensive coordinator. In that press conference, I asked if Macdonald wanted to build off the scheme of Don “Wink” Martindale or install his own. He stated he wanted to continue what Martindale did. That he wanted his team to be aggressive and be the ones pushing the envelope. I asked Orr the same question.
“We definitely want to build on that. That’s a scheme that we helped build here for years,” Orr said. “It’s been a scheme in [the] making. Kind of going back to the point I made earlier; all those questions that you just asked, we will find out in the offseason studies – in the self-scout studies of what we want to do and how we’re going to build on it and what we’ll change up and how we can get better. Like I said, we’re always looking to get better. That’s why you’ve seen great defenses here in the past. That’s what we have to do to continue. You have to look at yourself and look at how you can improve and how you can make that better, and on top of that, staying in front of what’s next. We know it’s going to be something that offenses [are] going to get together and try to present to us new this year.”
Calling Plays: Where and How?
Where a play caller stands is always questioned. Some coordinators opt for the box to best see the field and see it as a strategical advantage. Some opt to remain on the sidelines for better in-person communication. Both have their advantages, with little disadvantages, really. So, where will Orr be?
“I have to be on the field,” Orr said. “I have to look players in their eyes and see what’s going on and get a feel for how guys are feeling out there. So, people have their different ways, [but] I have to be on the field. I’m more being into it and getting the feel off of motion and how guys are really feeling out there.”
So, the location of Orr is known. But how will Orr call plays? It’s something Harbaugh sent Macdonald to the University of Michigan for, to get a better understanding before rejoining the Ravens a year later.
“I think what we do a great job [of] here is everybody [has] a collaborative effort going into the gameplan,” Orr said. “Obviously, the coordinator is going to have the final say so, but we all have game-planned areas [of the game]. We all watch all the film together, and we come with our own ideas. We bring it to the table, and everybody’s voice is heard. Ultimately, one person makes the decision, but everybody’s voice is heard.”
But Orr is no longer just one at the table. He’ll be the one person who makes the decision. So, while it’s easy, what gives him confidence that he can call the Ravens’ defense when the games there are live rounds?
“I’ve seen it done, I’ve been a part of it, and what makes me confident is my preparation [that] I’m going to put in,” Orr said. “I’m going to prepare my butt off, and that’s where your confidence comes in [with] anything you do. When you’re not confident that you can do a job, that means you haven’t prepared. So, if you prepare the right way, like you’re supposed to prepare, you’re going to be confident. And I plan on preparing the right way.”