Give the Ravens credit for not resting on their laurels.
Bringing back as many from the Super Bowl XLVII winning roster as humanly possible would have been the easy thing to do and clearly from the perspective of the team’s fan base, it would have been the path of least resistance.
It would also have been the path to a .500 season – or worse.
Instead Ozzie Newsome and his top-notch front office colleagues were determined to reclaim the team’s long-standing reputation as a defensive juggernaut by gutting the defense and rebuilding it.
When the victory parade ended following a second world championship the team members dispersed knowing that they’d never be the same again.
The roster purge might even continue after the dust of the 2013 NFL Draft settles and the Ravens put their tried and true 80/20 formula to work. Can they replace any expensive veterans and get 80% of the production for 20% of the cost?
Clearly the additions and subtractions on defense far outweigh those on offense and with good reason. The Joe Flacco led unit is moving in the right direction. The defense, despite a late season rally, perhaps emotionally charged knowing that the 2012 season represented Ray Lewis’ farewell tour, aged rapidly.
They looked slow and tired during the second half of the Super Bowl. Perhaps you’ve even heard on NFL Network’s Sound FX coverage of the Super Bowl, San Francisco 49ers coaches and players mocking the Ravens conditioning and age.
Changes had to be made.
And the changes were many.
Seven defensive starters – GONE!
Since that confetti fell from the Super Dome ceiling when Josh Bynes tackled Ted Ginn, Jr. to end SBXLVII the Ravens have ushered in plenty of new faces, all part of an effort to get younger and faster on defense.
When you look back to some of the most effective Ravens’ defenses, they almost always had solid depth in their defensive line rotations and inside linebackers that could run sideline to sideline.
Consider these defenders that could comprise the Ravens defensive front seven rotation in 2013:
Terrell Suggs; Haloti Ngata; Elvis Dumervil; Courtney Upshaw; Art Jones; Pernell McPhee; Chris Canty; Marcus Spears; Brandon Williams; DeAngelo Tyson; Terrence Cody; Arthur Brown; John Simon; Kapron Lewis-Moore; Jameel McClain; Rolando McClain; Albert McClellan; Josh Bynes; Michael McAdoo.
That is a ton of talent to control the line of scrimmage all complemented by a formidable albeit youthful projected starting back four of Lardarius Webb, Matt Elam, Michael Huff and Jimmy Smith.
The Ravens wanted to get younger and faster on defense…
Now the challenge, the heavy lifting sits upon the shoulders of defensive coordinator Dean Pees and his staff. Ozzie & Co. delivered the groceries and now it’s time for the chef to do his thing.
But it won’t be easy – at least not initially.
With so many new faces it will take some time to gel and a leader will have to emerge.
Ray Lewis is gone. Ed Reed is gone. Someone will have to step up.
Suggs may be an effective colonel but he’s not general material. Ngata? Quality guy without question and clearly respected but as a defensive captain he’s not the answer.
Who is the answer? Who could be that guy wearing the green dot that takes the calls from Coach Pees and implements them on the field?
Ideally you want someone who is a three down player and given the rotations in the front seven, one would think that the player most likely to be on the field at all times is rookie Arthur Brown. But adjusting to the speed of the NFL is challenging enough. Add in the responsibilities associated with the green dot and it will force Brown to think – perhaps think too much and when players do that, they play slower and consequently less effectively.
The player most familiar with the defense is Jameel McClain but if history is any indication the undrafted free agent from Syracuse isn’t a three-down player. Making matters worse for McClain are lingering health concerns centered upon a spinal contusion that ended his 2012 season prematurely.
Rolando McClain, should the team stick with the troubled inside linebacker, is too volatile and untrustworthy to depend on at this time in his career.
Bynes or McClellan? Do they even have a chance to start? Will both make the team?
Corners aren’t really practical as “Green Dotsmen”.
And that brings us to the probable starters at safety, veteran newcomer Michael Huff and rookie Matt Elam. Perhaps Elam, a rare captain as a Junior for the Florida Gators could be that guy someday, but as a rookie? That’s asking a bit too much.
Huff might be the guy but can he embrace Pees’ system quickly enough?
There really is no clear-cut choice to wear the green dot but heading into the 2013 season we all knew there would be a transition period from the Ray Lewis Era. This is part of the process – part of the learning curve.
But as we’ve seen so often in recent years, the team holding the Lombardi Trophy under the rain of confetti at the end of the season doesn’t have to have the best team at the beginning of the season or during the regular season. It’s not how you start but how you finish.
The personnel department has assembled the talent. It’s now time for the coaches to configure the talent to get the greatest returns when it counts the most.
We won’t mind if “the band” plays a few sour notes along the way.
Just as long as they pass the audition.