The Baltimore Ravens have always been known for their dominating style of defense. The approach of wearing opposing offenses down late in the game due to their aggressive, hard-hitting, smash-mouth style of play has long been a staple of purple-and-black football, and has resulted in many, many victories.
While the 2013 defense wasn’t what we’ve come to expect, they held their own in many ways. Despite the lack of offense that often forced the defense to take extended reps last season, the Ravens’ defense still managed to rank in the Top 12 in many major categories. Impressively, there were seven games during the season when the Ravens’ “D” allowed 0-1 touchdowns.
The Ravens owned the NFL’s No. 3 third-down defense last season, allowing opponents to convert on just 33.5% of their attempts. However, the defense still struggled to get off the field late in games and their key playmakers often disappeared in times of need. The pass rush was nowhere to be found late in the year, as Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil wore down as the year went on, and as a result the secondary was too often left out to dry covering some of the game’s best receivers. The Ravens allowed 25 passing touchdowns and opposing quarterbacks racked up 230.1 yards per game.
2014 needs to be different.
While the main focus of the offseason has been to boost the offensive side of the football, the Ravens have been quietly putting together a mixture of youth and experience on defense.
The organization spent their first three draft picks on defensive players, selecting Linebacker C.J. Mosley, defensive end Timmy Jernigan and safety Terrence Brooks, all of whom are expected to contribute right away. They used another fourth-round pick on defensive end Brent Urban, who was unfortunately lost for the season due to a torn ACL in training camp. As the Ravens wrapped up their first two full weeks of training camp, the coaching staff will finally have the opportunity to see these young players in action as preseason games are upon us.
Mosley has appeared to be the real deal throughout OTAs, minicamp and training camp. Taking reps with the first team defense throughout camp, Mosley looks to be everything the team had hoped when they selected him in the first round. He is listed on the team’s first official depth chart at starting inside linebacker, but the next step will see how he performs under real game situations.
Jernigan is a gritty physical player whose athleticism is remarkable especially considering his 6-2, 300-pound frame. With Terrence Cody missing every snap of training camp recovering from hip surgery, Jernigan has been running with the second team defense, but has seen reps with the first team as well, rotating with veteran Haloti Ngata.
Brooks is behind the eight ball so to speak in terms of his drafted position. The third-round selection was drafted to take over the free safety role opposite of Matt Elam; however, the rookie has struggled. Free agent Darian Stewart was signed earlier this offseason and the competition between Stewart and Brooks has been quite one-sided. Stewart, if healthy, will likely be the starting free safety in September.
Throughout the first two weeks of training camp, I kept a close eye on the second-year players, focusing more on the defensive side of the football. The rookies will join a group of second-year players (Elam, Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams, John Simon, and Kapron Lewis-Moore) giving the team something they haven’t had in recent years: depth and rotation in the linebacking corps and along the defensive front.
Elam has had a quiet training camp leading into the first preseason game. While he is certainly a more vocal leader in the defensive backfield, Elam has made very few big plays in coverage. On the other hand, his support in run defense has been outstanding.
Listed behind Mosley on the depth chart, Brown has had a nice camp and the Ravens no doubt have an important role in mind for the second-year player. When veteran Daryl Smith missed time with a groin injury this past week, Brown and veteran Josh Bynes shared snaps. Brown looks solid in pass coverage, often causing deflections and breaking up passes, while Bynes appeared to get the reps on running downs. Brown is a man of mystery and it will be interesting to see just how the Ravens use him in game situations.
Williams has gotten a lot of work throughout the first two weeks of camp with the first team defense. Williams played in seven games last season producing six tackles, one sack (-5 yards) and one fumble recovery as a backup along the defensive line in his rookie year. Williams is listed as the starting nose tackle, but the 6-1, 335-pounder is likely to be rotated with DeAngelo Tyson.
Simon could prove to be the odd man out on the Ravens 53-man roster come September. The Ohio State Buckeye has had a quiet training camp thus far, for the most part running with the third team defense. Playing in seven games in 2013 on special teams, the former fourth-round draft pick recorded just four tackles. Buried on the depth chart behind Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw, Simon will need to turn heads one the pads are strapped on in game action.
Lewis-Moore was placed on the Reserve/Non-Football Injury List on 8/27/13 due to a knee injury he suffered in college playing in the National Championship Game. Likely a rotational player that will spell Chris Canty to keep the veteran fresh in 2014, Lewis-Moore has held his own throughout camp. Expect Kapron to play an extended number of snaps during the preseason as the former Notre Dame standout is fully healthy.
As the Ravens begin their preseason schedule Thursday night, the organization is waiting to catch a glimpse of the defense, and they hope what they see has the making of the days of old. While inexperienced and sure to face some growing pains, the young defensive group is no doubt hungry and champing at the bit to once again put fear into opposing offenses.
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