During the offseason, the Ravens faced the difficult task of attempting to replace two future first-ballot Hall of Fame players.
Losing Ray Lewis and Ed Reed at the same time is a bitter pill to swallow. Nonetheless, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome did a tremendous job in free agency by replacing experienced veterans with other experienced veterans (albeit not Hall of Fame worthy players).
Prior to signing with Baltimore, Daryl Smith spent his entire 9-year career with the Jacksonville Jaguars. Both Smith, who is expected to start at middle linebacker, and Reed’s replacement, former Raiders safety Michael Huff (seven years) spent their entire careers with losing franchises.
For Smith, being in Baltimore is a fresh start.
“Love the environment, great teammates, great coaches, this is a first class organization,” Smith said after a recent practice. “I’m just excited and happy to be here really and be a part of it.”
Smith will provide needed leadership to a very young corps of inside linebackers yet he understands the daunting task ahead — picking up the slack for Lewis, the departed General.
Smith hasn’t spoken to Lewis yet, but even without that connection the underrated linebacker knew he had to disconnect from his old jersey number 52, worn throughout his career as a Jaguar.
“As soon I was signing here, it wasn’t even a question,” Smith said. “Okay, what number is open?” he asked the equipment staff.
“51, that’s fine,” he replied. “Numbers don’t mean nothing to me like that.”
Smith is certainly a little quieter than Lewis when it comes to celebrations and hair-raising stadium entrances. He told me to not expect to see him dancing anytime soon.
“No, that ain’t me,” he said. “We’ll see out on the field. I’ll try to do my talking with the pads.”
Much like Lewis before him, Smith will become the veteran in charge of tutoring the inside linebackers. During the draft, the Ravens traded up six spots to select Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown in the second round (56th overall).
Smith has been impressed with what he’s seen from not only Brown, but other young up-and-coming players like Josh Bynes.
“[Brown] is a young linebacker who’s hungry, I think he has all the tools,” Smith said. “We really have some talented linebackers here.”
Brown represents a new breed of linebackers who trade in size for speed to keep up with fast-paced offenses. His size has been the only knock against the rookie, but something the veteran Smith doesn’t believe will be a factor.
“I don’t think so,” said Smith. “I’ve played with guys who were smaller and just as fast and powerful as a bigger person was.”
“It’s just what you can do at your size. I don’t think he should be counted out of anything for being lighter. I was lighter when I came in ten years ago.”
While it may be difficult to imagine a Ravens defense without Lewis and Reed, the Ravens front office made several underrated moves to help ensure that veteran leadership remains, to not only contribute on the field but to also serve as mentors to the club’s younger players.
Smith and Huff aren’t sure-fire Hall of Famers, but judging from what they’ve shown so far during training camp, together they are a pretty good consolation prize.