For the Ravens, inside linebacker has been an area of need since even before the retirement of Ray Lewis, who arguably was the greatest to ever play the position. After the troubled Rolando McClain retired from the NFL prior to the Ravens even assigning him a uniform number, fans are now left wondering who will be thrown into the mix with Jameel McClain (health pending) and second-round pick, rookie Arthur Brown.
Parts of the fan base and even local talk radio hosts have mentioned former Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher as a candidate to replace Lewis, a lock for the Hall of Fame and former face of the franchise. Even though Urlacher was himself the face of the Bears franchise for 13 seasons and will be included in the Hall of Fame discussion one day, he’s not a fit in Baltimore.
Lewis was/is beloved in Baltimore but father time eventually caught up to him. For as much as Lewis picked up his teammates with his pregame speeches, his teammates returned the favor to Lewis with their play on the field. While Urlacher would fill a void with locker room leadership, he would essentially be the same player Lewis was on the field last year, and accompanied by plenty of younger and less experienced players at the professional level.
Also, Urlacher turned down a one-year, $2 million deal with the Bears; there is no way the Ravens would pay him more to come to Baltimore.
After Karlos Dansby signed with the Arizona Cardinals this past weekend, the Ravens are essentially out of options on the free-agent market for somewhat impactful linebackers to join the team…and I’m totally fine with that.
Personally, I believe the Ravens are comfortable in what they have. The defense does have a lot of depth at outside linebacker and the addition of Elvis Dumervil during the offseason will allow the team to shift some of their outside linebackers to the inside (as they did with Albert McClellan last season).
Aside from the aforementioned McClellan and Dumervil, at outside linbacker the Ravens also have Terrell Suggs, Courtney Upshaw, rookie John Simon, Adrian Hamilton, and Pernell McPhee, who has lost weight and will be transitioning from defensive end according to John Harbaugh.
The crowded group at outside linebacker will keep plenty of players with potential off the field, unless they are flexible in their linebacking duties. Upshaw is fantastic against the run and will be mixed in with Dumervil and Suggs as the team’s primary pass rushers. Simon is a big body and would likely see more time on the field his rookie year at middle linebacker than he would rushing from the outside.
It’s too early to tell what the Ravens will do, but the story will unfold as OTA’s, mini-camps and training camp begin. This season is going to be make or break for Terrell Suggs coming off a tear of his Achilles tendon last offseason. If he returns to the level of play that won him Defensive Player of the Year honors in 2011 (or near it), the Ravens will be willing to accept the $12.4 million cap figure he’ll consume in 2014; if not, Upshaw will likely permanently take his spot.
Knowing that the team would likely not want to shift Upshaw around with the uncertanty looming for Suggs, that makes Simon, the 2012 Big Ten Defensive Player of the year, more likely to be asked to try his hand at inside linebacker.
It’ll be an interesting summer at the inside linebacker position, but don’t expect Brian Urlacher to be following former teammate Corey Graham’s Chicago-to-Baltimore footsteps.