Street Talk - The latest street talk and Baltimore Ravens related News from the Russell Street Report Team.
Lombardi’s Way - A column from the 24×7 founder that focuses on the Ravens, the NFL, Baltimore, the world of sports or life’s inspirations.
Word on The Street - In the spirit of the CBS Sports Minute with Boomer Esiason, RSR brings you Word on The Street, a 90 second (or less) podcast on topics exclusively relating to the Baltimore Ravens.
Ravens Links - We’ll give you the best stories about the Ravens from around the web three times per week.
The Fanimal - If you are an animal about the Baltimore Ravens, then you are a Fanimal! Follow the Russell Street Report blog Fanimal Crackers!
The Edgar Awards - The Edgar Awards will range from the Maryland county that is home to the best Ravens fans to the best Ravens podcast; from the best collection of displaced fans to the best local craft brews that should be part of your next tailgating party.
The Road to RSR - Our writers explains their journeys as fans and how they came to write for our little corner of sports media.
OWINGS MILLS — Adalius Thomas no longer lurks in Baltimore, leaving a defense bereft of an athlete who shadowed receivers, blitzed quarterbacks and decked running backs shocked that a man so large could react so quickly.
The multi-dimensional All-Pro linebacker signed a $35 million contract with the New England Patriots in March.
Now, the NFLâ€™s top-ranked defense is charged with replacing Thomasâ€™ extensive versatility. Itâ€™s a daunting task that primarily falls to one man.
Meet Jarret Johnson.
Heâ€™s the rugged, bearded former backup with the thick Southern accent who ascends into Thomasâ€™ old job, and heâ€™s a different type of football player. Johnson is considered to be more adept at stuffing the run than operating in pass coverage. And the former fourth-round pick from Alabama isnâ€™t as fast or as accomplished at rushing the passer as Thomas.
Yet, the Ravens have a lot of confidence in the Florida native and proved that by rewarded him with a six-year contract virtually simultaneous to Thomasâ€™ exit.
â€œHe has got to replace a great football player, thereâ€™s no doubt about it,â€ defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said in June at the Ravens’ training complex. â€œAdalius was a tremendous player for us, we donâ€™t hide that fact. Itâ€™s not all going to fall on Jarret Johnson even though we are comfortable with that.
â€œJarret is a smart guy, tough, dependable, durable and mean. He plays to our mentality. So, weâ€™re excited about the things Jarret can do in a full-time role.â€
Like Thomas, Johnson is a converted defensive lineman with an aggressive, physical approach. Unlike Thomas, though, Johnson wonâ€™t be lining up at cornerback across from Cincinnati Bengals All-Pro wideout Chad Johnson anytime soon.
Johnson is a decidedly less flashy alternative to Thomas, but his grit and intelligence should ease the Ravens’ transition into the post-AD era.
â€œI donâ€™t feel any pressure,â€ Johnson said. â€œI know itâ€™s a challenge, but Iâ€™m up for it and Iâ€™m excited about the opportunity. Well, Iâ€™m not the same player that AD is obviously. He can do more things in pass coverage.
â€œI can do the pass coverage thing, but my game is more geared toward the run, probably not the back-end stuff like he can do. But I am also a versatile player who can do some things along the line. We are two completely different players, but we have some similarities.â€
One trait both players carry besides competitiveness is the capability to line up at several positions. Johnson can play inside or outside linebacker as well as defensive end or even defensive tackle in a pinch.
He registered 35 tackles and 1 Â½ sacks in two starts last season after recording a career-high 61 tackles in 2006.
Only a few years ago, Johnson was somewhat awkwardly finding his way around his new home at linebacker after years of grappling in the trenches.
â€œNight and day, I had very little knowledge,â€ he said. â€œI knew where to be, but I didnâ€™t know exactly what I was doing. Today, I know where to go and why Iâ€™m there.â€
Within the locker room, Johnson’s promotion hasnâ€™t caused concern. Veteran defensive end Trevor Pryce even said that Johnson was one of the best players he’s ever been around.
â€œHeâ€™s going to be a major contributor,â€ cornerback Chris McAlister predicted.
Johnson was notably leaner at minicamps having lost about 10 pounds, also sporting a buzzcut.
â€œI knew I was going to be standing up on my feet and little bit more and not as much having my hand in the dirt,â€ Johnson said. â€œI wanted to lose a little bit to be able to move a little better.â€
While the Ravens have faith in Johnsonâ€™s abilities, heâ€™s not going to be alone in taking on Thomasâ€™ old set of responsibilities.
Expect Johnson to operate extensively on first and second downs with many of Thomasâ€™ coverage duties now going to athletic inside linebacker Bart Scott. Ryan has also experimented with safety Gerome Sapp lining up at linebacker in nickel packages.
â€œItâ€™s going to fall on a lot of guys,â€ Ryan said. â€œItâ€™s not just going to be all on one guyâ€™s shoulders.â€
Johnson has an easygoing reputation, but did bristle slightly at the suggestion that the defense is going to take a step backwards without Thomasâ€™ high-profile presence.
â€œA loss like AD is huge to the defense, but we always find a way to replace that loss,â€ he said. â€œTo second-guess us just because we lost AD is just not an educated thing. We have proven that we can lose guys and still be successful on defense.â€
Aaron Wilson covers the Baltimore Ravens for the Carroll County Times and the Annapolis Capital.