Guessing The Starters: Defense


Welcome to our second edition of “Guessing The Starters”, where we guess the Ravens’ starting lineup for this season. Two days ago, it was the offense, now it’s the Ravens’ vaunted defense that you read about in your mythology books. Oddly enough, because of injuries and the like, the defense isn’t being regarded as the deity-like unit it’s been in the past.

For each position, you’ll see three different categories. One is the “Projection”, which is the player that I think will start when all is said and done. The other is “My Pick”, which is the player who I’d start at the position if I had the power to do so. The third is just an explanation for my picks.

Projections after the jump.

Defensive End:
Projection: Haloti Ngata (Left), Trevor Pryce (Right)
My Pick: Haloti Ngata (Left), Trevor Pryce (Right)
The Reason: I know that Ngata is a natural nose tackle, but he’s been playing as a defensive end most of his time in Baltimore, and defensive line-wise, the starting lineup isn’t very important. Guys cycle in and out all the time, and Ngata could end up playing three times the amount of plays at nose tackle then at end. Pryce is the experienced veteran on the line, and the reason he starts is because he has no real competition. If Dwan Edwards did not go to Buffalo, Pryce could have been the backup this season.

Nose Tackle:
Projection: Kelly Gregg
My Pick: Terrence Cody
The Reason: Kelly Gregg gets the projection nod because he’s a staff favorite, a fan favorite, and always gets the job done. Cody gets the nod from me because he’s young, explosive, and looks like he’s the real deal. Again, on the line, starters mean very little, so we could see Cody playing 70% of the plays if he gets in good enough shape.

Outside Linebacker:
Projection: Terrell Suggs (Left), Jarrett Johnson (Right)
My Pick: Terrell Suggs (Left), Jarrett Johnson (Right)
The Reason: These guys are as good as it gets for a duo of outside linebackers. While Suggs had a disappointing season last year, he was insistent is saying that he’d be in top shape this season and would have the best season of his career. If that turns out to be true, this duo could carry the defense, with Suggs’ explosiveness being countered by Johnson’s football IQ and knack for being in the right place at the right time.

Interior Linebacker:
Projection: Tavares Gooden (Left), Ray Lewis (Right)
My Pick: Dannell Ellerbee (Left), Ray Lewis (Right)
The Reason: This is one of the most intriguing position battles on the team. It’s essentially a three-horse race between Gooden, Ellerbee and Jameel McClain for the starting spot, with a chance of Brendan Ayanbadejo making a run at it if he can stay healthy. I believe Gooden’s pure talent and experience will win out, but he needs to get back onto the field for that to happen. I would take Ellerbee because of his consistency. The other competitors have gotten injured and set back at some point, but Ellerbee hasn’t. In my opinion, he could turn out to be next in the long line of undrafted defensive players to become stars for the Ravens. Regardless, there are three (or four) options to compliment Ray Lewis, so a platoon could even be in the cards.

Projection: Lardarius Webb (Left), Fabian Washington (Right)
My Pick: Lardarius Webb (Left), Fabian Washington (Right)
The Reason: The Ravens have a big SNAFU at the cornerback position, and not just because of Domonique Foxworth and Walt Harris being lost for the season. Lardarius Webb is not 100% yet, and Washington might not be either. This situation could be helped by Cary Williams, but he’s SUSPENDED FOR THE FIRST TWO GAMES OF THE SEASON. Those two games would be great for Webb to give him some extra recovery time, but he’s almost forced to start now, unless the team wants to sacrifice all cornerback depth and sit him out while starting Chris Carr. It’s extremely complicated and tricky right now.

Free Safety:
Projection: Ken Hamlin
My Pick: Tom Zbikowski
The Reason: With Ed Reed missing some regular season action (I’m not optimistic he’ll be back for Week 1 like Jamison Hensley is), Hamlin and Zbikowski have been battling hard all August for the starting spot, and we still have no clue as to who will win the spot. Most reports indicate the coaching staff being extremely impressed with Hamlin, but the staff here at feels like Zibby is the man for the job. He’s worked hard, made plays and has shown his versatility. This is another very intriguing battle, especially because after Reed returns, the winner of the battle will get the bulk of the playing time not claimed by Reed, a significant bonus.

Strong Safety:
Projection: Dawan Landry
My Pick: Dawan Landry
The Reason: Landry is one of those guys that the Ravens have turned into a stud. A sixth round pick who was on nobody’s radar coming out of college, he’s now one of the NFL’s top safeties. Even after sustaining a horrific neck injury in 2008, Landry returned better than ever last season and will look to keep his level of play consistent this year.

Special teams coming tomorrow.