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Coordinator Don Martindale understands pressure of new job

New coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale inherits a defense that returns nearly the entire starting unit. Jamison Hensley/ESPN

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Don "Wink" Martindale accepts the pressure and the challenges of being the Baltimore Ravens' newest defensive coordinator.

Promoted last week from linebackers coach, Martindale takes over a defense that has finished in the top 10 in 15 of the past 20 seasons. He assumes the role that has been held by four predecessors who became NFL head coaches: Marvin Lewis, Mike Nolan, Rex Ryan and Chuck Pagano.

"I think any coach worth his salt thinks he's the right guy for the job," Martindale said. "I've been preparing for this job all my life and I understand what comes with this job with this great organization. I think it's one of the great challenges there is in the National Football League."

If there is anyone who understands what it means to make a name for himself, it's definitely Martindale, who has carried the nickname of a TV game-show host for over 30 years. Donald Brown, a teammate of Martindale's at Defiance College, called him "Wink" when he first walked in as a freshman.

"I wish I was related to him because I think I’d have a big inheritance," Martindale said. "But I’m not."

Martindale, 54, is in charge of a Baltimore defense that recorded three shutouts in 2017, led the NFL with 34 takeaways, ranked No. 12 in total yards allowed and will return virtually intact next season. The only starter on defense who's scheduled to be a free agent is defensive end Brent Urban, who played only three games before suffering a season-ending foot injury.

But this is a defense that has allowed last-minute touchdowns that eliminated Baltimore from the postseason in each of the past two years.

"The finishing part, we're close," Martindale said. "Obviously the last two years, it's been the last play that's knocked us out of it. We are going to work diligently -- all of us -- with our package and situational football. That's going to be the next step, I think, that will skyrocket us. That's the big thing that I see. We're going to take our good and make it great. We were really good. Let's make it great."

Martindale, who has been on the Ravens' staff since 2011, has the support of the locker room. When he was officially named defensive coordinator, he received congratulatory text messages from Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Haloti Ngata, Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley.

Before arriving in Baltimore, Martindale coached his only season as an NFL defensive coordinator. It was a tough time for Martindale, whose Denver Broncos defense ranked last in the league in yards (390.8) and points allowed (29.4) per game. Denver finished 4-12, and the entire coaching staff was fired afterward.

"You win or you learn. I learned a lot that year," Martindale said. "It always has been and it always will be about the players. I was proud, even though the stats were what they were. I was really proud with how we played. I know it didn’t work out the way we wanted it to work out. Eight years later or whatever it is, I’m glad I went through that process because I think that makes me a better coach today. It’s like I tell my guys, you either win or you learn."

Martindale acknowledged that he didn't know whether he would be an NFL defensive coordinator again. Asked if he considers this a second chance to prove himself, Martindale said, "Yes. Without a doubt. My family knows it. Everybody knows it. My players know it. I can’t wait."