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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 linebackers.
The loss of Adalius Thomas should sting a unit that was considered the NFL’s best a year ago. He served as the ultimate utility man in defensive coordinator Rex Ryan’s helter skelter unit. Thomas lined up everywhere on the field, including in the secondary. Finding a replacement seems like an impossible task.
However, the rest of the linebackers can collectively handle the defensive responsibilities that Thomas left behind. Weak-side backer Bart Scott will have to take deeper drops in coverage. Ray Lewis may be called on to blitz more. Jarret Johnson – the player starting at Thomas’ strong-side spot – will have to provide toughness and containment against the run.
All three players are talented enough to handle the increased workload.
Starter(s): Although the grizzled future Hall of Famer is in the twilight of his career, Lewis remains the heart and soul of the linebacker corps.
There were times when Lewis looked a step or two slower than he’s been in the open field. He missed tackles that he would have made two or three years ago. But at the end of the day, when anyone looked down at the stat sheet last season, Lewis’ still ended up registering a healthy 10 tackles and a couple of pass deflections in almost any given game.
In fact, Lewis led the Ravens in tackles despite missing two games.
The two-time Defensive MVP has full command over the defensive calls and adjustments that need to be made on the field. Even at the age of 32, Lewis brings a level of passion and intensity on the field that is unmatched.
Scott, like a number of other linebackers through the Baltimore system, broke out after toiling away as a backup from the undrafted ranks.
The former Saluki has tremendous range and anticipation as a blitzer. In coverage, he has the speed and athleticism to stay with speedy tight ends and running backs. In order to become a more complete ballplayer, Scott will need to erase some of the missed tackles that plagued him a year ago. 
Any comparison made between Johnson and Thomas would be ambitious, to say the least. Although both players share the similarity of being converted ends, they are different players.
While Thomas glided with such rare coordination and speed all over the field, Johnson’s play is not quite as picturesque. He simply gets the job done.
The Crimson Tide alumnus is a rugged defender who is willing to throw his body around to make a stop. Moreover, the defensive coaches love his willingness to play anywhere, and he has the intelligence to adapt on the fly. Johnson will be a solid in-the-box run defender, but until he proves that he can handle playing in space, he’ll stay perched close to the line-of-scrimmage.
Backups: Given that the team will continue to mix in a lot of 3-4 looks, linebackers Mike Smith and Gary Stills may see more playing time than they did a year ago.
Smith in particular could play inside alongside of Lewis, if Ryan wants to use Scott on the outside in certain situations. Although he is primarily known for his special teams play, Smith is a capable ballplayer, with sound instincts against the run.
The organization may have hit on another late-round find in Prescott Burgess. The sixth-round pick out of Michigan was lost in the shuffle behind his more touted teammates like David Harris, Leon Hall and Alan Branch.
Burgess had a poor showing in his pre-draft workouts. But the 6-foot-3, 240-pound backer is a consistent wrap-up tackler with the ability to play either outside position.
Following injuries to Lewis and Smith, third-year player Dennis Haley went from a practice squad performer to instant starter against the Tennessee Titans. He filled in nicely, recording 10 tackles in his lone start. Haley is a stout run defender with the size to take on blockers.
Grade: B+
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Dev Panchwagh

About Dev Panchwagh

Dev Panchwagh is a versatile analyst who breaks down the Xs and Os of the game and has been a columnist/analyst for Ravens24x7.com since the summer of 2004. In his regular season column Battle Plans, Dev highlights the Ravens' keys to success against each upcoming opponent. Dev started modestly as a sports journalist, but his contributions to sports talk radio were noticed, leading to duties as a regular columnist for the Scouts.com network before joining RSR.  It would be very difficult to find his rare combination of youthfulness, knowledge and insight in all facets of football anywhere else.  Fortunately, Dev brings it here each and every week.  More from Dev Panchwagh


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