“I told my teammates, this will be my last ride.”
When Ray Lewis spoke these words, prior to the Ravens 2012 playoff run, the Ravens knew there would soon be a defensive void that would be hard to fill.
They wasted little time — After trading up with the Seahawks in last year’s draft, Ozzie Newsome called Arthur Brown’s name, the reigning Big 12 Defensive Player of Year.
The Ravens front office was praised. Brown was considered by many a first round talent. When he started slipping into the second round, the Ravens jumped up six spots and nabbed the player they had coveted.
Brown immediately drew comparisons to Ray Lewis. He was undersized coming out of Kansas State, but had incredible speed and athletic ability.
Despite the excitement, Brown’s rookie season never lived up to the hype. When he showed up at training camp looking like a running back rather than a middle linebacker, it was clear he’d need time in the weight room to excel at the pro level.
Soon after, news followed of a sports hernia injury that would require surgery, slowing Brown’s development and forcing him to the sidelines for most of the season’s first half.
His rookie season never got off the ground.
Regardless, the Ravens continue to show optimism in Brown. One source has described Brown as an “athletic freak” who needs to simply familiarize himself with the defense and his assignments. The recent release of Jameel McClain is proof of the team’s faith in Brown.
Whether or not the Ravens are able to re-sign Daryl Smith, the release of McClain means defensive coordinator Dean Pees is counting on Brown to be a starting three down linebacker.
John Harbaugh seems to echo that. During the State of the Ravens press conference, Harbaugh had this to say when asked about Brown:
“He’ll be competing for that weak side linebacker starting job. I expect him to win the job, but he’s got to go win the job.”
While the Ravens expect Brown to compete for and win the job, it won’t be gifted to him. Even if the Ravens may seem thin at inside linebacker, they’ve already said they would consider bringing back Jameel McClain at a discounted rate.
The Ravens also have a knack for finding quality players late in the offseason who need a home. Daryl Smith was a perfect example of this last year. D’Qwell Jackson could be an option if he remains unsigned, since he was recently released by the Browns. Quality options will surface if the Ravens aren’t satisfied with what they see from Brown in training camp.
Should Brown fulfill expectations it will allow Ozzie to upgrade personnel in other places.
While much of the talk of this offseason has focused on upgrading the offense, the continued forward progress of the defense can’t be overlooked. The Ravens improved in virtually every defensive category last year from 2012. In order for this to keep trending in the right direction they will need solid play from young players on their defense.
When Brown was drafted, it was with the hope he’d be the heir to Ray Lewis – no easy task.
No one expects him to replicate Ray’s motivational pregame speeches or squirrel dance out of tunnel.
However the Ravens do expect him to be a playmaker on Sundays in 2014.