OWINGS MILLS, Md. — This isn't the first time Dean Pees has been forced to make a major adjustment for an injured star outside linebacker on the fly.
When Pees was the defensive coordinator of the New England Patriots, Tedy Bruschi suffered a stroke in February 2005 that put not only his season, but his career in jeopardy.
It was news Pees didn't want to hear, considering those mid-2000s Patriots teams relied on Bruschi's ability to wreak havoc in opposing teams' backfields.
Bruschi ended up missing six games and came back for New England's seventh of the 2005 season, against Buffalo.
During Bruschi's absence, Pees moved linebacker Mike Vrabel over to his spot and tweaked the scheme to fit the rest of the defense.
"What you do is, you've still got to install the defense," Pees said. "You've still got to find out who can play the position. I don't think that we're not going to show up next fall, so the thing of it is somebody's got to step up, somebody's got to take his spot."
Pees, who was promoted to the Baltimore Ravens' defensive coordinator position after spending two years as the linebackers coach, will have to make a similar adjustment for as long as outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is sidelined with an Achilles tendon tear.
Pees expressed confidence the defense will be able to work within the confines of losing the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year for an extended amount of time in 2012.
"You try to find everybody's strengths, you try to play to their strengths," Pees said. "What might be different for another outside 'backer might be different than it was for Suggs. So, we'll find things that'll hopefully play to everybody's strengths."
Pees left New England after the 2009 season — his last game as the Patriots' defensive coordinator being the 33-14 loss to Baltimore in the playoffs.
Pees' contract was up, and though he's heard the rumors that he was asked to leave, he insists he left voluntarily for a change of scenery.
Throughout his 40-year career, he's coached at all three levels, beginning as an assistant coach with Elmwood High School in Bloomdale, Ohio. He later took over the Elmwood program as the head coach in 1975.
After a stint as a defensive backs coach with NCAA Division II Findlay (Ohio), he took the defensive coordinator's position with Miami (Ohio).
At Miami, Pees coached John Harbaugh, who's now his boss in Baltimore.
"As far as playing for Dean, any player that's been with coach Pees, he's the type of coach that makes you feel good about who you are as a football player," Harbaugh said. "He instills real confidence, makes you feel tough and makes you feel like you can do it. And he teaches you how to do it. He makes it very accessible."
Upon leaving Miami after the 1986 season, Pees held assistant coaching jobs at Navy, Toledo, Notre Dame and Michigan State, before taking a head coaching position with Kent State in 1998.
After six seasons, Pees left Kent State entered the NFL coaching ranks as the Patriots' defensive coordinator.
With Pees being promoted to Baltimore's defensive coordinator this season, he becomes the fourth person to hold that position under Harbaugh's watch in the past five years.
The previous three saw varied amounts of success, beginning with Rex Ryan, now the coach of the New York Jets.
Following Ryan, Greg Mattison manned the post in 2009-10 before taking the same position at Michigan. There, Mattison improved a defense that ranked 110th the previous season to 17th.
Last year, Chuck Pagano's aggressive style placed Baltimore as the third best defense, as far as statistics are concerned, and ultimately landed him the coaching job for the Indianapolis Colts.
Now it's Pees' turn to orchestrate a defense with its main pieces in place.
Even with Suggs out, it can be said that 17-year veteran Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed make things much easier no matter who the coach is.
"There's a lot of veterans that will sit back and say I have a pretty good handle on this stuff, I can do that," Pees said. "But this is why these guys are the great pros they are. They're taking notes, studying film, they act like this is the first time they've heard it, and it's not. That's why they are who they are. That's why they have my utmost respect, because of the way they approach the game and approach their profession."
Despite being 62, Pees' booming voice carries on the football field. He joked that he probably could yell plays in from the sideline and his players would be able to hear him over the crowd noise.
Linebacker Paul Kruger described Pees as having "old man wisdom," saying he's learned a lot from Pees in the linebacker meeting rooms the previous two years.
"I think Coach Pees commands respect," Kruger said. "He's just a leader. I think nobody questions the authority or the leadership at all this year. It's just one of those things where he's got that presence that everybody understands. I think that's probably the biggest positive that I've seen this year."
Pees will look to continue the tradition that comes with coaching one of the NFL's best defenses.
Though his predecessors have left their marks, Pees isn't looking to vary from who he is on the sideline.
"I've been around coaches who have tried to be somebody other than who they are," he said. "You've got to fit your personality. We have a system here. We have a system in place. It's a system that has been proven, it's worked. So, I'm not going to come in and try to change that system."