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Leading up to the start of training camp, 24×7 will preview the 2007 Baltimore Ravens position-by-position. Today we will analyze the defensive line.
Bar none, this is the deepest and most complete position on the team. All of the front four starters are Pro Bowl caliber players.
What makes this group unique is their ability to line up at various spots. Any one of the defenders can play each otherâ€™s position, depending on how the formation is setup.
For instance, in a 4-3 base, Kelly Gregg and Haloti Ngata would play inside, while Trevor Pryce and Terrell Suggs would line up on top of the tackles. Conversely, in a 3-4 set, Suggs would stand up, while the other linemen keep their hands in the dirt. There will be times when Gregg, Ngata and Pryce interchange between end and nose guard positions, although Ngata is the primary NT. Suggs, meanwhile, is capable of rushing from all over the place.
The line is a reflection of the overall defensive theme of presenting a scattered, shape-shifting look on every snap.
Starter(s): The combination of Suggs and Pryce on the outside is as lethal as it gets. Both players are physical and tough. Both have a top-end motor and both possess the ability to take over a game.
Suggs is the more lithe, quick pass rusher up front. There are few ends that are quicker off the snap. Suggs not only anticipates the snap count well, but he has also improved with play recognition, particularly when defending bootlegs and screens. Suggs has refined his ability to hold his ground at the point-of-attack against the run.
Pryce had a monster season in â€˜06, much to everyoneâ€™s surprise, including the Ravens themselves. Despite registering 13 sacks, Pryce was not voted to the Pro Bowl. Not only did Pryce get to the quarterback last season, but he was equally formidable against the run, especially in edge pursuit.
What makes the former Bronco so tough is his ability to take on double and even triple teams. Pryce uses his hands well and does a nice job of squeezing through tight spaces to collapse the pocket. On third-down, Pryce usually moves inside to rush the passer.
There is not a more overlooked player in the league than Gregg, a.k.a., Buddy Lee. Gregg has earned the respect of his peers and coaches by playing with a relentless, no quit attitude.
Few defensive tackles do as good a job of staying low and maintaining their leverage as Gregg does. Gregg is the best goal line run defender in the NFL.
While Gregg looks more like a fire hydrant than a traditional nose tackle, Ngata fits the physical description to a tee. The 6-foot-4, 350-pound defender started out slow as a rookie but he became more of a force at the tail end of the season. Ngata tends to play high at times, and does not always drive through a block, but when heâ€™s on top of his game, he is nearly impossible to move.
Backups: In many ways, Justin Bannan served as a fifth starter on the defensive line last year. He played on first and second-down quite often at the beginning of the season, until Ngata became more comfortable as a starter. Bannan missed five games in â€˜06 due to a foot injury, but he should be completely healthy at the start of training camp.
Much like Gregg, Bannan routinely makes stops because he is a relentless defender who outworks his opponent.
Although Dwan Edwards has yet to fulfill his promise as a 2004 second-round pick, he has developed into a serviceable backup. Edwards lacks quickness and burst, but he uses his hands well, and is a reliable short-yardage run-stuffer.
Given Jarret Johnsonâ€™s permanent switch to linebacker, the swing defensive end duties will fall on the shoulders of a couple of youngsters.
Antwan Barnes is a hybrid pass-rusher, in the mold of Adalius Thomas and Terrell Suggs. Considering how raw Barnes is, it is questionable if he will log significant playing time or not. Still, Barnesâ€™ may be too explosive to keep on the bench.
In Dan Codyâ€™s case, it might be a case of whether he can physically get off of the bench in order to contribute as a third-down rush end. Ideally, Cody will take over the spot that Thomas played on the line, as a roving end in obvious pass-rushing situations. But until Cody proves that he can stay healthy, his role in the defense is anything but set.