One area of the game that had often gone overlooked was that of the trenches. Sure a lot of the skill players who would get the recognition would continually give love to the men down in the trenches, but as fans we sometimes over looked these positions as part of the game. Well if this year’s draft taught us one thing, the men in the trenches are getting the love that they deserve and are being recognized publicly as the backbone of most championship football teams. Offensive linemen saw a lot of love in this years draft, as well as in recent years, and the same can be said for the guys on the other side of the ball. More and more we read about the stellar athleticism of pass rushers and defensive linemen and how important they are to football teams. The Ravens are no different. A lot of their rebuilding this off season focused on the offensive and defensive lines. Here is a look at what we can expect to see from the Raven’s defensive line this season.
One facet of the game that has greatly changed for the Baltimore Ravens is their defensive line. A lot of new faces are going to be wearing purple and black jerseys this season and a good amount of them are going to be featured on the defensive line. The Ravens lost a few key people that helped out on the defensive line last season, but I think overall they vastly improved an area of the game that wasn’t as good last season at it has been in recent seasons. The Ravens started this off season losing a lot of players to free agency. Luckily none of the big names that left were ones that consistently played on the defensive line. The only big name that we really lost upfront was Paul Kruger, but he was more of an outside linebacker that got shifted down into a down end position sometimes. So really we only lost a player who occasionally fit on the defensive line in some packages. The only real direction that we could go this off season was up and thanks to some brilliant GM moves by Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens defensive line is really on the upwards trend.
Free Agents Signed:
DT Chris Canty
DE/DT Marcus Spears
DE Arthur Jones
DE Elvis Dumervil
DT Brandon Williams
LB/DE John Simon
DE Kapron Lewis-Moore
Easily the biggest name signed by the Ravens this off season was Elvis Dumervil. After a very strange fax snafu over in Denver the Broncos found themselves without the talents of the all-pro pass rusher and the Ravens were very quick to jump all over this and make Dumervil realize that the place he is wanted most is in Baltimore wreaking havoc on quarterbacks with fellow all-pro pass rusher Terrell Suggs. Looking at Dumervil’s role I imagine that he will predominantly play the same role as Terrell Suggs, just on the other side of the field. He will probably be a hybrid defensive end/outside linebacker. I think for the value that we got him at 5 years, $35 million as opposed to the contract that Paul Kruger recieved from the Browns @ 5 years, $41 million. I think the Ravens got a far better player for a much better price.
The middle of the defensive line was also something that was a bit lacking last season. The Ravens were 20th in the league last year against the run allowing 4.0 yards per attempt, allowing over 100 yards rushing 9 times last season. A major contributing factor to this was definitely the interior line as well as the fact that Holati Ngata had to play outside of his natural position and attribute more of his skills to the interior of the line, leaving the outside of the defensive line more vulnerable and the Ravens unable to seal the edge at time against the run. Well That has all been taken care of. The Ravens went out and signed big defensive tackled Marcus Spears and Chris Canty. Chris Canty is definitely the better of the two, but Spears is a big, athletic down-linemen and is pretty good at sealing interior gaps to help disrupt the running game. Arthur Jones is another move that I really like. I love that the Ravens brought him back into the fold because I think he still has a lot of upside and he can play both end and tackle so he has some versatility. When it comes to the interior line I dont expect the Ravens to bring back Ma’ake Kemoeatu, he did pretty well inside for the Ravens last season, but he got pushed around a bit and had tendencies to disappear from games. I think the Ravens rotation on defensive line will work just fine with Cody, Canty, Spears and rookie Brandon Williams.
The Ravens also managed to address the defensive line in the NFL Draft that just passed. One player in particular that I absoloutely love out of this years draft is defensive end John Simon out of Ohio State. Simon is a natural leader on the field. He has an unbelievable work ethic and a non-stop motor. Its been reported that Simon frequents the gym 3-4 times a day while still going to all practices that are required of him. He’s not the most athletic guy out there, but his football smarts and natural instincts allows him to play at a very high, very aggressive level. Brandon Williams is a guy that most people wont know about. He’s a defensive tackle from a D-II school but the kid is a freak athlete. He tied for the most reps at the combine on the bench press with 38. That’s 38 reps at 225 pounds. He’s also pretty quick and does a good job at sealing gaps. Lewis-Moore is a player that I feel can develop really well into our system. He’ll probably see more time than he would have because of McPhee moving into a linebacker role for the Ravens, but I do believe that Lewis-Moore is good enough to work his way into some games. He plays a good 5 technique. I actually think that Lewis-Moore is a better pass rusher than Jones and is more stout defensively than McPhee. His skill set falls nicely in between those two guys and at the position that the Ravens got him in, I think that he was a good value pick.
Players still here from last season:
OLB/DE Terrell Suggs
DE/DT Haloti Ngata
DT (DE/OLB?) Pernell McPhee
DT Terrance Cody
DT (MLB?) Bryan Hall
One thing I mentioned was that the Ravens are going to be tinkering with the position of Pernell McPhee. McPhee is a player with a lot of talent. I dont know if this is going to be a permanent thing, but there have been talks about the Ravens moving him to OLB/DE. Their defense is filled with a ton of players that can play a multitude of positions. That being said, McPhee isnt the only player reportedly making a position change off of the defensive line. Bryan Hall, and undrafted free agent in 2011, is a player that the Ravens and John Harbaugh really like. He was on their practice squad in 2011 and worked his way onto the 53-man roster in 2012. He is a good athlete and if the Ravens think that he can contribute better at the inside linebacker position I would love to see how he fits there. So that being said, from the defensive line last season, two people who played games there are going to be playing different positions. Its going to be interesting to see how well they transition into those positions, but with the versatile players the Ravens like to sign, I dont see any issue with having them trying something new.
As for the players that are still there. I dont see any reason why we should question the ability of Haloti Ngata or Terrell Suggs. I see these two as the guys who are going to have to take over as leaders for Ray Lewis and Ed Reed on defense. Suggs I see fitting into that role well. He was already a leader on defense and isnt afraid to rally the troops when he knows the team isnt playing up to par. Haloti Ngata is a bit more soft spoken than Suggs, but I think he can definitely shoulder the burden of being a defensive leader and carrying this line. He is a phenomenal player who is at the top-tier of his position on defense. He can play anywhere on the line, but I think he is a bit more comfortable playing on the outside of the line at an end position. That doesnt mean he cant slip down into a NT position, but I really do think his talents are best used sealing the edge against the run. He’ll get a lot more time to do that this season thanks to the additions of a good core of defensive tackles.
Terrance Cody has been talked about a lot this off season. Not for the same reasons he was a year ago however. This off season a lot of people are focusing on the rather poor play he showed throughout last season. Cody definitely did not live up to expectations coming off a very successful season the year prior that actually resulted in him losing his starting position on the Ravens defensive line. This season I still have high hopes for Cody. Reports say that he has lost a bunch of weight in an effort to become a more athletic DT. This is a great sign, but last season he had a tendency to look a bit sluggish out there. I would love to see Terrence Cody bounce back this season and have another great season.