A Super Bowl has never been won during the offseason but the Ravens have consistently positioned themselves to make a run for a championship year after year. While questions still surround the offensive personnel, the defense appears to be stacked for a sixth-consecutive playoff run.
The roster decisions from the Ravens front office have allowed them to weather the storm from the losses of two future Hall of Fame members of their defense (not only that, but arguably the greatest players to ever play their respective positions).
In less than three weeks, the regular season will officially commence and after what has been on display throughout training camp, the Ravens appear to have themselves a “problem” of sorts – though not necessarily a bad one. The defensive unit is deep – perhaps too deep – meaning that some quality players won’t see as much playing time as they may elsewhere on a non-contending team.
Only 11 players can take the field at once, but the Ravens have been showing during practice that through packages designed to capitalize on each player’s abilities, they have ways to get as many of their playmakers on the field as possible.
During the preseason, the Ravens rookies – including their top two selections, S Matt Elam and ILB Arthur Brown – have looked promising. Neither has been named a starter at their respective positions, but it’s not like head coach John Harbaugh was ever going to essentially hand them a starting job solely based on their draft position. Harbaugh has made it tough on these players to earn a spot and the rookies have responded by making it tough for their coach to not carve out a spot for them on the field.
For Elam and Brown, they’ll be facing the same scenario then-rookie OLB Courtney Upshaw was facing a year ago. Upshaw was very good at stopping the run but the Ravens had Terrell Suggs and Paul Kruger ahead of him on the depth chart. Upshaw saw playing time during run situations and then gave way to Kruger, who was more of a natural pass rusher.
The same philosophy will continue this season as Elvis Dumervil, one of the best pass rushers in the league, will occupy the role vacated by Kruger.
Similarly Brown and ILB Josh Bynes, who has already been named the teams starting”Will” linebacker by Harbaugh will flip-flop. Bynes is bigger and more physical, which equates to being more valuable in the run game. When the Ravens employ nickel and dime packages, you are likely to see the speedy Brown at ILB.
Just how fast is Brown? Ask Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III, who played against him in college (4:18 mark below).
As for Elam at strong safety, he’ll be rotating with James Ihedigbo, as Michael Huff has entrenched himself in the free safety position. While Ihedigbo may get the nod personnel-wise at nickel, after Elam’s strong tackling clinic during last week’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, it could be only a short amount of time before he secures the starting job and an even more significant amount of playing time.
Having to find additional ways to get players on the field is a great problem for the Ravens coaching staff to have. It’s also a strong testament to general manager Ozzie Newsome, who utilized his “right player, right price” phillosphy and strong scouting via the draft to assemble another top-notch contender in the NFL.
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