INDIANAPOLIS – Barreling toward the line of scrimmage as he bolted past lumbering offensive tackles, Terrell Suggs spearheaded the Baltimore Ravens’ pass rush during a resurgent season.
Unfortunately for the Ravens, the Pro Bowl outside linebacker usually was the lone defender to harass the quarterback.
As Suggs led the team with 11 sacks, the defense slumped to 27 sacks for the lowest total in franchise history.
“It was one of his best years, so that caught me off guard,” general manager Ozzie Newsome said regarding the Ravens’ pass rush. “Going forward, are we going to continue to try to bring in some other people that can get to the passer? Having Suggs to have a companion to go along with him, that will be very helpful f or the organization and it’s something that we’ll look into as we move forward.”
The Ravens’ efforts to upgrade the pass rush have been thwarted by the slow development of second-round defensive end Paul Kruger and second-round outside linebacker Sergio Kindle fracturing his skull when he fell down two flights of stairs last summer.
“We’d like to have as many pass rushers as we can get,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And there are some in this draft.”
The Ravens’ need matches up well with the meat of this draft: the defensive end and outside linebacker class.
It’s a rich draft for pass rushers. As many as nine defensive ends are projected to go in the first round.
Several top-flight defensive ends are still expected to be available when the Ravens are on the clock with the 26th overall pick of the first round.
“Three-four defensive ends or outside linebackers, it’s a strong class,” said Kansas City Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli, a former Ravens and New England Patriots executive. “Regardless of the defense, there’s players who can help every defensive line in the NFL at those positions.”
Elite defensive ends like Da’Quan Bowers (Clemson), Robert Quinn (North Carolina) and Cameron Jordan (Cal), are expected to go during the first half of the first round as well as outside linebacker Von Miller (Texas A&M).
However, the Ravens could have a legitimate shot at defensive ends like Ryan Kerrigan (Purdue), J.J Watt (Wisconsin), Cameron Heyward (Ohio State), Adrian Clayborn (Iowa) and Christian Ballard (Iowa).
“I feel like I’m a good pass rusher,” Kerrigan said. “I can get after the passer, but I’m also athletic enough to drop into coverage and be able to cover tight ends and wide receivers.”
Watt transferred to Wisconsin from Central Michigan, walking on and earning a scholarship.
He’s an imposing specimen at 6-foot-6, 292 pounds after bulking up by 40 pounds after initially playing tight end.
“I play the game with relentlessness and aggressiveness,” Watt said. “The game means too much to me to ever slow down and not give it everything I’ve got.”
Heyward is the son of bullish former NFL running back Craig “Ironhead” Heyward, who passed away five years ago from a brain tumor.
“Using my head,” Heyward said when asked to draw comparisons to his father. “He used it to punish linebackers. I go after tackles. He used his head. God gave it to us, why not use it?”
Heyward is regaining his health after undergoing elbow surgery in January and won’t work out until his Pro Day campus workout at Ohio State on March 30.
“As a pass rusher for the next level, I think the things I bring to the table is that I’m a guy that likes to be physical with the pass blockers. I know I need to refine my techniques and continue to improve. I’m a guy that’s going to constantly hustle and just give it all I got."
Smith is a fast-rising player on draft boards.
The athletic 6-foot-5, 260-pounder is a smooth, explosive pass rusher who has the frame to gain weight and counts himself as one of the best all-around pass rushers available.
“I would say I’m right up there with them,” said Smith, who’s scheduled for 28 interviews this weekend with the Ravens undoubtedly on his dance card. “My versatility makes me standout. Being able to drop, being athletic. Something a lot of people don’t know about me is that I can stop the run. I can help out in that area, too.”
Clayborn is a strong three-down defender at 6-foot-4, 285 pounds.
And he’s faster than he looks.
"My speed and quickness," Clayborn said when asked what’s surprising about his game."Coming from Iowa, people don’t think us country boys can run."
NOTES: The Ravens have begun preliminary contract discussions to try to lock up free agent offensive lineman Marshal Yanda. No deal is imminent … The Ravens met with Oregon inside linebacker Casey Matthews at the Senior Bowl and at the combine. He’s the younger brother of Green Bay Packers star linebacker Clay Matthews. "Friends will ask me, ‘Do you feel pressure?’" Matthews said Saturday. "I don’t really see it as that. I put a certain amount on myself. It’s not necessarily that I have to live up to the name, though it would be nice playing at their level." … The Ravens have interviewed several players, including Sam Acho (Texas), Mount Union wide receiver Cecil Shorts, USC offensive tackle Tyron Smith, who’s not taking part in combine drills as he recovers from lateral meniscus surgery, Fresno State wide receiver Jamel Hamler, Oklahoma defensive end Jeremy Beal, Virginia Tech defensive end John Graves, Southern Arkansas defensive end Casey Thornton and Arizona defensive end Ricky Elmore.