The clock is ticking! The Ravens will start training camp in just a few days. Quarterbacks will report on Tuesday, July twenty second and the rest of the team will join them on the twenty fourth. The clock is ticking; I “can’t wait!”
When training camp begins, one of the most important position battles will be Nose Tackle. In the Ravens’ base 3-4 hybrid defensive scheme, having an effective Nose Tackle is critical. The Nose Tackle has to be strong, quick, aggressive and “nasty.” During the early part of the 2013 season, the Ravens’ Nose Tackles played more like stadium ushers than NFL “big men”. They practically escorted opposing Running Backs and scrambling Quarterbacks to the second level where Daryl Smith and his Linebackers had to clean up their mess.
As the season settled in, Coach John Harbaugh and Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees had seen enough. They fixed the problem, temporarily, by moving Halodi Ngata inside from his Defensive End position and he played well despite being “nicked up.” Although the move helped in run defense, it had a negative effect on the strong side pass rush.
This year, the Ravens want to solve the Nose Tackle issue once and for all. They want to find a “permanent” solution to the problem and move Halodi Ngata back to his “five technique”, Defensive End position. With strong Nose Tackle play and Ngata or Canty setting the edge, Outside Linebacker Terrell Suggs should be in better position to mount a more effective pass rush.
In 2010, when General Manager Ozzie Newsome drafted Terrance “Mount” Cody out of the University of Alabama (Newsomes’ alma mater) in the second round, he thought they had found Kelly Gregg’s replacement. Gregg had moved on to the Kansas City Chiefs as an unrestricted free agent.
Although Newsome, and others, had concerns about Cody, primarily about his weight and work ethic, the Ravens felt they could develop Cody into a top flight Nose Tackle. After four disappointing years, punctuated by injuries, surgeries and lack-luster play, the Ravens decided to bring him back, ending a dismal period of free agency isolation for him. However, Cody is clearly the man “on the bubble.”
Nose Tackle Kelly Gregg and Tony Saragusa before him, had been the cog around which the vaunted Ravens defensive lines revolved. Cody, however, failed to pick up the mantle. Maybe it was the injuries and surgeries that affected his game. Maybe it was becoming comfortable as a back-up, but whatever it was; the “hunger” appears to have disappeared.
The main contenders for Nose Tackle on the 2014 Baltimore Ravens are Brandon Williams and Timmy Jernigan. The 6’1”, 335 pounds Williams is the Ravens’ 2013 third round pick from Missouri-Southern State University, a Division II school. Jernigan, who stands 6’2” and weighs a svelte 300 pounds, hails from Florida State University and was taken in the second round this year.
The battle between Williams and Jernigan actually started at OTAs, when Jernigan turned in a stellar performance, even when playing with the “ones.” They will continue their bid to impress the coaches through training camp and the pre-season, but regardless of the result, the Ravens should be set at Nose Tackle.
Going into training camp, it would appear that Williams, because he’s played a year in the Ravens’ defensive system, has the upper hand but the competition really seems to be “wide open.” Williams, whose build will remind Ravens’ fans of Kelly Gregg, has a lot of upper body strength and plays with good leverage, so he will not be easy for Centers and Guards to push around. Timmy Jernigan, on the other hand, is younger at age 21, and by most accounts, Jernigan is stronger, faster, more agile and has better moves than Williams.
According to scouts, Brandon Williams has quick very hands and keeps them in good position to fend off bigger offensive linemen, and to shed their blocks. He is also one of the most versatile of the Ravens’ defensive linemen. Like Ngata, he can play the zero technique (Nose Tackle) and the five technique Defensive End in the Ravens’ hybrid Base 3-4 alignment. Because of his versatility, Williams can also play the three technique, Defensive Tackle, when the Ravens use their 4-3 set. The one knock on Williams is his “underwhelming” speed. He cannot be expected to move down the line in pursuit of Running Backs like Ngata or Jernigan can.
It would not be surprising if the Ravens kept all three Nose Tackles on their 53 man roster. Because of Williams’ versatility, even though he might start at Nose Tackle, he is likely to be second or third on the depth chart at other defensive line positions. Jernigan can also play Defensive End and actually has the body type and speed of a five technique rather than Nose Tackle. If the Ravens do keep Williams, Jernigan and Cody, Head Coach John Harbaugh might have seen enough of “Mount” Cody as a starter. His durability is a serious issue as is his passion to be “the best” at his position. At this point, despite reports that Cody has “healed” from his last surgery and is in “great shape”, the Ravens will most likely look at Cody as a rotational player at the position.
As the clock ticks and the hours melt away between now and the start of training camp, I “can’t wait” to see the Ravens’ “Big Three” Nose Tackles in action. In the end, the 2014 Ravens’ Defense will definitely be “stout” up the middle.