Linebacker is a position that historically has been a position of strength for the Ravens, and this season looks to be no different. Picking up Daryl Smith last offseason proved to be a genius move, and the team has promising early draft picks in C.J. Mosley and Arthur Brown who have looked great so far in minicamp.
Things are certainly looking up for this position group, and the depth added this offseason will make linebacker one of the least of the concerns the Ravens will have. There are still unanswered questions, however, revolving around how each piece will be used and what the depth chart will look like by week 1. Here are three burning questions for the Ravens linebackers.
1. Can Daryl Smith repeat his stellar 2013 performance?
Daryl Smith was a revelation for the Ravens last season, leading the team in tackles and racking up five sacks. He brought a quiet resolve and veteran presence to a defense that sorely missed Ray Lewis. Scoring Smith in free agency turned out to be the equivalent of a winning lottery ticket, one that no one could have predicted prior to the season.
So what are the odds that Smith can repeat his career best performance from last season? The 11 year veteran just turned 32 this offseason, so he most likely has a couple of good seasons left physically. Mentally, he is as sharp as they come, which helps linebackers tremendously as they age. Anticipation and the ability to read an offense can make up for speed deficiencies.
We think that Smith is a very safe bet to at least come close to last year’s numbers for this very reason. He appeared to be a perfect fit the the Raven’s defensive scheme last season and should continue to be a major contributor for at least the next season or two.
2. What role will Arthur Brown play?
At this point, it is pretty safe to say that C.J. Mosley is going to win the starting ILB job. But we can’t forget about Arthur Brown, last year’s second round selection who has been receiving a good bit of praise this offseason. The Ravens are currently penciling him in as a nickel linebacker, so he will get some snaps this season.
Long-term, Brown and Mosley project to be the future at the position. Brown will most likely push Josh Bynes out of the rotation, maybe even as soon as this season. Bynes has proven to be solid but unspectacular over four seasons, and Brown just simply has more natural ability. The Ravens have expressed interest in using Brown as a middle linebacker in the past, so perhaps he could be Daryl Smith’s heir apparent.
3. Who is next in line behind Josh Bynes?
Right now, Albert McClellan is a safe bet because he can play inside and outside, and he is a core special teams player. He possesses the versatility that teams covet in reserve players because you never know what is going to happen on the field. McClellan is not a dynamic defender but did make 12 special teams tackles last season.
Courney Upshaw is solid against the run but once again showed up to camp out of shape. He comes off the field on passing downs because he simply hasn’t displayed any pass rush ability thus far in his career. Pernell McPhee has expressed his desire to lead the team in sacks this season, but he isn’t really built to be a ‘backer. The career DE is likely just trying to earn a role right now after spending the last couple of seasons battling injuries.
McPhee has the most upside of the group if he proves to be effective without his hand in the dirt. He posted six sacks in his rookie season and clearly has the best pass rush skills of the group. This ability should help him crack the rotation this coming season and hopefully make an impact on passing downs.
What are your burning questions for the linebacker group?