The pass rush has been a major point of emphasis this offseason for the Ravens. Terrell Suggs is on the mend from his second torn Achilles, and the Ravens are hoping he has another year or two left in the tank. Meanwhile, Elvis Dumervil is looking to get back to his 2014 form. After being forced into an every down role last year after Suggs’ injury, his sack totals fell dramatically from 17 to 6.
Then there was the draft.
The Ravens added Kamalei Correa and Bronson Kaufusi in the second and third rounds, respectively. They passed up quality corners despite a clear need at the position. It’s obvious that ramping up their ability to get after the quarterback was at the top of their offseason to do list.
With the return of Suggs, Dumervil returning to his situational pass rush role, and the infusion of talent through the draft, the Ravens’ pass rush should be greatly improved in 2016. With all the moving parts, it seems like one player is flying under the radar, and that’s probably just fine with Za’Darius Smith.
After being selected in the fourth round last year, Smith showed flashes in 2015. The heir apparent to the departed Pernell McPhee, Smith was a bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season, posting 5.5 sacks in 15 games. He is looking to build on the momentum of his promising rookie season.
“One thing coach wants me to do is be a better pass rusher,” Smith said this week, according to the Ravens official site. “He said I’m doing a good job setting the edge and doing a great job at practice, but most important is to get me pass rushing.”
With all the additions through this year’s draft, and the return of Suggs, it’s been easy to forget about Smith. But he could be one of the biggest X factors for the Ravens defense in 2016. Smith and Pernell McPhee look identical in a Ravens uniform, and their rookie seasons were mirror images statically as well.
“I had to learn faster and put my big boy pants on last year,” Smith said. But I think I could have done more, and coach said that, too. This year I think I’m going to do a lot of great things.”
The Ravens have a history of finding key contributors, particularly on defense, in the mid to late rounds of the draft. McPhee and Arthur Jones are recent examples. It wouldn’t be surprising to see Smith take a similar path and be one of the most disruptive players for the Ravens in 2016.
With a solid rookie year under his belt, Smith could be a player who is an integral part of a defense looking to force turnovers and make game changing plays. It seems as if he’s been flying under the radar this offseason. It might not take long, though, for the league to take notice. Last season was certainly a great start.