Not much happened at linebacker for the Ravens this offseason.
Other than drafting Alabama linebacker C.J. Mosley in the first round, both the inside and outside linebackers group remained intact, thanks in part to the extension of Terrell Suggs and re-signing of Daryl Smith.
Not much has changed for either group, but there’s still a handful of players to keep an eye on as training camp begins.
Notable new additions: C.J. Mosley – The only addition to either unit expected to have any distinct amount of playing time this season, Mosley should have no trouble touching the field as a rookie, whether it may be on the strong or weak side.
Ideally, Mosley is Baltimore’s best option at strongside inside linebacker, and would offer an upgrade over Smith in that role. Mosley is as well-rounded as linebacker prospects come, and should fit in well with the defense either as a rotational piece or full-time player this season.
Inside linebacker with the most to prove: Daryl Smith – He may have signed a four-year deal with the team this offseason, but that’s not to say his playing time is safe. A full-time defender who rarely left the field last season, Smith had a renaissance year that provides hope he can build on that for the 2014 season.
He is, however, battling the young players – Mosley and Arthur Brown – both just as talented (and better in some aspects) as Smith, which makes it unknown as to just how much playing time he’ll have this season. It’s not as if just two linebackers will be on the field the entire game – all three ideally will rotate in and out throughout the season – but by the end of the season, Brown and Mosley may be the team’s best two options at inside linebacker.
Inside linebacker to follow: Arthur Brown – Mosley’s arrival shouldn’t hinder Brown’s growth too much, as noted above, Mosley figures to see plenty of time on the field this season, regardless of position.
The player Brown may have to battle most with is Smith, who is similar to Brown in the sense that both linebackers’ forte is coverage, a strong trait for the weakside linebacker role.
Brown’s playing time was sparse as a rookie, taking the back seat to Smith and Jameel McClain in the rotation. In year two, Brown should take the next step and display the makings of a future starter for the team.
The Mosley-Brown duo will be Baltimore’s building block at inside linebacker, and the 2014 season should offer the preliminary sights of what that duo can bring to the defense.
Outside linebacker with the most to prove: Courtney Upshaw – Through two years, it isn’t necessary to call Upshaw a bust, but it also isn’t realistic to label him a success.
With fluctuating weight being an issue for Upshaw in back-to-back offseasons, he hasn’t truly developed into what he could be as a run-stopping outside linebacker. Much better in 2012, Upshaw was still a starter for the team last season, and earned more playing time than pass rush specialist Elvis Dumervil.
Upshaw will never offer much as a pass rusher – we know that – but he’ll need to come along more in run defense to become a valuable commodity for Baltimore’s front seven.
Fellow defender Jimmy Smith unlocked his potential in his third NFL season; will Upshaw be able to do the same?
Outside linebacker to follow: John Simon – Baltimore’s depth at outside linebacker is lacking; Suggs, Dumervil and Upshaw are the uncontested top three for the unit, but there isn’t much after that.
Pernell McPhee developed into an outside linebacker last season, but ideally he offers more as a hands-down defensive lineman. In terms of true outside linebackers to add depth, one of the lone options is second year player John Simon, a defender who was relegated to mainly special teams as a rookie.
He played well albeit sparingly (7 games) on special teams, but ideally to get the most out of the 2013 fourth-round pick, he’ll need dress more on Sundays and contribute on defense as well.
At Ohio State, Simon’s pure strength made him a consistent rush threat on the outside. The 2014 season should offer Simon his first real opportunity to crack the defensive rotation in some fashion, and possibly relieve Suggs or Dumervil on occasion during pass rush opportunities.
Both Suggs and Dumervil seemed to fade out during the second half of last season. Maybe having Simon in the rotation could help prevent that problem this year.