When college defenses turn on NFL film, the Ravens are featured prominently.

Defensive prospects talked about it at the NFL scouting combine, as did new Ravens defensive line coach Dennis Johnson.

So, when an opportunity opens to join the No. 1 defense in the league — that defense you’ve been using as a model in your own preparation — there’s an extra bit of urgency for coaches looking to move up.

With last year’s defensive coordinator, Mike Macdonald, moving to Seattle to take over as the Seahawks head coach, the Ravens had to fill three spots on the defensive coaching staff.

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Each new coach took a different path to Baltimore, and each arrived for his own reasons, but they share a similar goal: maintaining the standard set a year ago.

Defensive line coach Dennis Johnson

As head of the No. 2 defensive line in the Big 12, Johnson felt he was in a good spot at Baylor. The 35-year-old had coached at the college level for 12 years and had just helped Siaki Ika to Big 12 Defensive Newcomer of the Year and All-Big 12 honors.

But watching film was part of coaching his college players to be the best they could be, and when he turned on the tape, Johnson often watched one defense in particular: the Ravens. With an All-Pro lineman in Justin Madubuike, who finished with 13 sacks last season, and standouts such as outside linebackers Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, there were a lot of players to emulate. And there was a lot to learn from Macdonald, whose disguised fronts and ingenuity in making the most of his players’ skills led to a historic season for the defense.

So, when Ravens defensive line coach Anthony Weaver left to become defensive coordinator of the Miami Dolphins, Johnson applied.

“I’ve been in a good situation in college,” Johnson said. “I’ve been a part of some really good defenses, some really good defensive lines. So it would take a special place like this to get your interest and pull you away. A defensive-rich program like this, you have to try.”

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The process was a long one. The Ravens wanted to get to know him on and off the field, and they had him interview with “everybody.”

Johnson’s hire was announced almost two months to the day before the draft. He was thrown in immediately. Now he’s on the field at organized team activities getting a feel for the players he has and the coaches around him.

“That’s a veteran group, right?” Johnson said. “So you want to add to it, show them things that they may not know — new techniques, eye progressions, where I want to put my hands in certain alignments, just fine-tuning them to make them better. I know some of the run stuff that we’ve kind of changed and improved, they’ve taken to it like a fish in water. They’re eager. That group wants to learn. They want to know, ‘How can I do it better? How can I do it faster?’”

Johnson missed reuniting with linebacker Patrick Queen, who left in free agency. Queen played for LSU when Johnson was coaching there. Both benefited from working with former LSU defensive coordinator Dave Aranda, the current Baylor head coach.

Johnson has always admired Harbaugh and the Ravens organization, but he had never met Harbaugh. The roundabout connection through Aranda gave him a sense of familiarity.

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“Coach Aranda is one of the biggest mentors that I have, and just the amount of football I’ve learned from him to help translate that to here helped a lot,” Johnson said. “It helped a lot in the interview process, it helped coming out here in a D staff, because a lot of the stuff that I have learned is coming from Coach Aranda.”

Inside linebackers coach Mark DeLeone (right) worked with star linebacker Roquan Smith in Chicago. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Linebackers coach Mark DeLeone

Mark DeLeone and Roquan Smith are reunited.

The new linebackers coach worked with the Pro Bowl linebacker in his second and third seasons in the league with the Chicago Bears. DeLeone helped Smith to second-team All-Pro honors in 2020.

At 27, Smith is more mature than he was at 22, DeLeone said with a laugh, but it’s just as much of a “blessing” to coach him this second time around as the first.

“Roquan Smith’s a great player, we all know that, but he’s a better person than he is a player,” DeLeone said. “So for me to have the opportunity to coach him again, be able to do that two times, that’s really special.”

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Smith was DeLeone’s only direct connection to the Ravens staff, but the coaching world is small and he has connections that tie him to Harbaugh’s coaching tree. DeLeone worked for Andy Reid for six years in Kansas City. Harbaugh worked for Reid for eight seasons in Philadelphia.

Although DeLeone has spent a decade in the NFL, he comes to the Ravens from a college program, Kansas, where he served as a defensive analyst.

His current position opened when Zach Orr was promoted to defensive coordinator after Macdonald’s departure. Working with a defensive coordinator who not only coached the position DeLeone is coaching but also played it has smoothed DeLeone’s transition. He can ask Orr how they did things last year and get an exact answer.

“The way Zach and I see the game is very similar, like how the position is supposed to be played,” DeLeone said. “... So, for me, being able to work with him and learn from him and talk to him and talk to him about linebacker play, that’s been amazing.”

Defensive backs coach Doug Mallory

When asked who the most competitive person he knows is, Doug Mallory has always answered without hesitation. It’s Jim Harbaugh.

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But now, after working with the Ravens, Mallory has another contestant for that title: John Harbaugh, Jim’s older brother.

Before being hired by the Ravens, Mallory had familiarity with pretty much the whole Harbaugh family other than John. He most recently worked with Jim as a defensive analyst at Michigan.

After 30 years in coaching, Mallory said, he wasn’t necessarily looking to go back into the NFL, where he spent five years with the Atlanta Falcons, but he was looking for a good situation following Jim’s departure.

“It’s not necessarily where you work; it’s who you work with,” Mallory said. “I’ve been at some real good programs that weren’t great jobs because of the people that you’re working with. I’ve been at programs that struggled but you’re working with great people. Now you always want to win. So, if you can get that combination of working for a great person and a winning program, that’s a great job. I had that opportunity here, and just the amount of respect that I have for John and this program. I think the tradition that they have here on defense, to be a part of that was awful enticing.”

Mallory is familiar with the Ravens defense because he worked with Macdonald at Michigan, and Orr is running a similar style. He said he likes the way it uses all types of coverage and way the system is taught. Upon arriving in Baltimore, he found there’s even more to it than he thought.

Mallory is taking on a defensive backs room that includes Pro Bowl safety Kyle Hamilton and former Pro Bowl cornerback Marlon Humphrey, along with standout players safety Marcus Williams and cornerback Brandon Stephens. He also got two new cornerbacks in the draft, one a first-round pick. Mallory is particularly excited to coach Hamilton.

“I knew about him,” Mallory said. “Just seeing him firsthand here, he’s extremely impressive. I didn’t realize he was as tall as he is, and just with that length and the athletic ability and the speed that he has, he’s just a really unique player.”