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Ravens Insider: New Ravens DC Zach Orr brings energy, enthusiasm to role: ‘Hit everything that moves’


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When Zach Orr played inside linebacker for the Ravens, his speed, quick instincts and enthusiasm for crunching and dragging ball carriers to the ground helped propel him to second-team All-Pro honors in what was a breakout third season.

It also turned out to be his last as a player, with a congenital neck/spine condition bringing his career to a sudden end in 2017.

Now he’ll bring many of those same traits to Baltimore’s sideline as their defensive coordinator.

“First thing first, is hit everything that moves,” Orr said Tuesday at his introductory news conference in Owings Mills. “We’re gonna play violent, we’re gonna play together and we’re gonna execute.”

He also said that he “definitely” wants to build on his predecessor Mike Macdonald’s scheme that created chaos and confusion for opposing offenses, and that effort will be a collaborative one.

That Orr was tapped for the job in the first place was mildly surprising.

At 31, he is the second youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL behind the Arizona Cardinals’ 30-year-old Nick Rallis, and it will be his first time calling defensive plays. He is also the first former Ravens player to be hired as a coordinator.

But with Macdonald having left to become the Seattle Seahawks’ head coach, defense backs coach Dennard Wilson bolting for the Tennessee Titans’ defensive coordinator opening and assistant head coach/defensive line coach Anthony Weaver getting passed over for a second time and leaving for the Miami Dolphins, Orr became the obvious choice. The process also moved quickly.

Orr met with Ravens coach John Harbaugh on Monday and Tuesday last week — as well as with the Green Bay Packers for their defensive coordinator opening a day later. There was also interest from Macdonald and the Seahawks.

Baltimore couldn’t risk losing Orr, and Harbaugh loved what he saw in the former undrafted linebacker out of North Texas as a player and a sharp, detailed-oriented coach who could relate to the men he coached.

Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Zach Orr talking at a news conference at the Under Armour Performance Center. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)
Zach Orr said Tuesday that he bleeds purple and black because of the support the Ravens organization showed him once he retired. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

Orr’s ascent was also a product of diligence, ability and a deep love for the organization. He said Tuesday that he bleeds purple and black because of the support the organization showed him once he retired.

After his playing days ended prematurely in 2017 and he expressed an interest in coaching, he got a call from Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti that both lifted his spirits and let him know they’d love to have him. He spent the next four years as a defensive analyst with Baltimore before leaving in 2021 to become the outside linebackers coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars, where former Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen was the defensive coordinator under coach Urban Meyer.

When Meyer’s brief and disastrous stint ended the following year, Orr returned to the Ravens as their inside linebackers coach.

In his time in that role, Baltimore’s defense ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed per game (312.8), rushing yards allowed per game (100.8), passing yards allowed per game (212.1), points allowed per game (17.5), opponent third-down conversion rate (35.7%), opponent red zone efficiency (43.8%) and takeaways (56). Inside linebackers Roquan Smith and Patrick Queen also thrived, with Smith having been selected as an All-Pro each of the past two seasons and both selected to this year’s Pro Bowl.

Orr garnered the respect of players as well.

“He brings passion on the field, off the field and in the meeting room, as well as his football IQ and the ability to relate to players,” Smith said in a statement. “Overall, it’s a really good fit for our defense. Everyone around the building respects him; it’s not just because of what he says, but because of his actions and the way he goes about things.

“I know his mentality is very similar to mine, so I’m stoked.”

Added outside linebacker Odafe Oweh: “One thing I notice about Zach is his voice is always loud. It’s always the highest pitch, and you have to respect it because it never wavers. He’s always bringing that action.”

Orr also has his work cut for him.

Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Zach Orr talking at a news conference at the Under Armour Performance Center. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)
At 31, Zach Orr is the second youngest defensive coordinator in the NFL behind the Arizona Cardinals’ 30-year-old Nick Rallis, and it will be his first time calling defensive plays. (Karl Merton Ferron/Staff)

He follows a defensive coordinator in Macdonald who helmed a historically great unit that became the first in league history to lead the NFL in sacks (60), takeaways (31) and points allowed per game (16.1). The Ravens also have more than 20 free agents, many of whom were key contributors on defense, including outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy.

But he does not appear to be overwhelmed by the challenge ahead.

“One thing that I’ve always lived by is, ‘You never stay the same. You either get better, or you get worse,’” Orr said. “You want to be cutting edge, always want to evolve and always want to be ready for the next thing the offense may present. So, we’re going to get in the lab this offseason. We’re going to look at ourselves, look at things we did well, look at how can make it even better, look at things we need to improve on and get better at that, and look at some new ideas that we could possibly present and get ready to roll out there by the time we kick off the ball the first week of the season.”

His first priority, though, he said will be to fill out the defensive coaching staff.

At least one job has reportedly already been filled, with the Ravens hiring Doug Mallory, a former Michigan defensive analyst, as defensive backs coach, according to 247 Sports. There’s also the NFL scouting combine later this month.

For Orr, it’s all part of the process and one he’s been around most of his life.

A native of DeSoto, Texas, his father, Terry, was a tight end for Washington from 1986 to 1993, while his younger brother, Chris, is a former linebacker who played for the Carolina Panthers in 2020. His older brother, Terrance, is the offensive coordinator at Hebron High School in Carrollton, Texas, and his younger brother, Nick, played college football at TCU and spent time with the Chicago Bears in 2018.

As for being named the Ravens’ defensive coordinator, Orr follows a long list of successful in-house hires.

After Harbaugh retained Rex Ryan from coach Brian Billick’s staff as his first defensive coordinator, five of his next six hires all came from inside the building, with Greg Mattison, Chuck Pagano, Dean Pees, Don “Wink” Martindale and now Orr. Macdonald was the exception but only briefly — he was with the Ravens for six years before spending one season as Michigan’s defensive coordinator in 2021.

“Zach is a homegrown Raven in every way,” Harbaugh said in a statement last week. “His energy, intelligence, work ethic and strong communication skills have been on display since the day he joined our organization as a player in 2014.”

Orr said he wasn’t terribly surprised to get the job.

Given the departure of other coaches, he knew he was in the running. He’s also excited to get going, which was obvious from the enthusiasm in his voice Tuesday.

“Wednesday, [Harbaugh] called me into his office, and in my mind, I’m like, ‘Man, what do you want to talk about?’ I was like, ‘I’ve been talking to this dude [on] Monday, Tuesday. Like, what’s up?’” he said. “I’m like, ‘I thought I answered every question you had.’ So, we’re still talking [on] Wednesday, and then he asked me again; he said, ‘Are you ready to call it?’ And I was like, ‘Yes, I’m ready.’ And he was like, ‘All right, well, I’m offering you the position,’ and that’s how it went.

“I heard those words, made him smile, I was grinning from ear to ear. I’m just thankful that he has that belief in me. And like I said, I’m going to work my butt off and do everything I can to make it right.”

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