The pads were back on and the players were ready to tee off. If you were a spectator during Saturday’s practice, your eyes needed to be on the line. That’s where the action was “Rated R” for plenty of violence and profanity.
From the first snap, the defense was on a mission to dominate. Perhaps they were inspired by the words of their defensive coordinator, Dean Pees, who said yesterday that they needed to step up during his weekly press conference. Either way, the starters were relentless and wore out the offense during the morning session. With guards Kelechi Osemele and Marshal Yanda sitting out, the front-line defenders in particular won their one-on-one matchups and consistently collapsed the pocket from the inside and the outside.
The four biggest standouts on defense today are also the top four defensive players on the team: Jimmy Smith, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, and Elvis Dumervil. These four veterans set the tone from a physical, emotional, and effort standpoint. Here’s a breakdown of each of their performances:
Jimmy Smith: The starting corner was back in the lineup and had an edge today. By my count, he was involved in at least two pass deflections. He consistently used his hands to disrupt the routes of the receivers. He had great anticipation on the ball and really controlled his side of the field in coverage.
Terrell Suggs: When he wasn’t barking at his teammates or at the offense, Suggs lived in the backfield. His get-off at the line was outstanding. The former Defensive Player of the Year was timing the snap count well and was able to split the gaps inside to gain penetration. As a pass rusher, he got around the edge by using his hands to break free. On one play against Ricky Wagner, Suggs did a nice job of hesitating, engaging, and then moving around Wagner’s hands to get free. Suggs moved around between both left and right sides, and regardless of who tried to block him, he was unstoppable.
Haloti Ngata: Suggs’ running mate was equally hard to block this morning. As an inside rusher, Ngata was simply relentless. On a play in which Ngata ended up getting a sack on Joe Flacco, offensive guard Ryan Jensen actually had good positioning. But Ngata simply wore him down by working through the block and eventually breaking through. Ngata also made A.Q. Shipley look bad on a couple of inside pressures in which he was simply too quick off the snap. Collectively, Ngata and Suggs did a great job of rallying to the ball.
Elvis Dumervil: The speed rush was back for Dumervil today. Like Suggs, Dumervil had a great burst and got around the edge several times. In a matchup against Jah Reid, the rush-end wheeled off Reid’s initial punch and worked his way clean to the QB. Reid committed a hold to knock Dumervil to the ground before he could make a play. Dumervil also could have had a strip-sack-fumble on Tyrod Taylor on another play. All in all, he was in on three clean pressures (that could have been sacks) just using his speed move alone.
OTHER STANDOUTS FROM SATURDAY
Courtney Upshaw: The third-year defender had a pretty solid day in coverage, run support, and rush-end duties. As a pass rusher, Upshaw still doesn’t use any moves to break down blocks. He relies on the power rush. However, he was effective on a play in which he got underneath the pads of Wagner. Upshaw established great leverage and was able to walk Wagner into Flacco to create pressure.
Upshaw also dropped into zone coverage a number of times. His drops were shorter (in the five-yard bump zone) and he used his hands to disrupt receivers out of their release. Given Upshaw’s strength and violent hands, using him exclusively as a jammer at the line would be a great way to slow down receivers in the passing game. Former Raven Adalius Thomas used to have the same role when he lined up on receivers on the line.
Of course, Upshaw’s bread and butter is his run defense. He used his hands to rip through play-side blocks to crash the inside, and also did a good job of scraping down the line from the backside.
Ryan Jensen: The second-year guard was part of the offensive line group that was besieged today. However, Jensen held his own more times than not, and even dished some punishment back. On a block in which he pancaked Kapron Lewis-Moore, Jensen kept blocking Moore on the ground, leading to a quick skirmish. Overall, Jensen displayed sound fundamentals, and consistently fought even when it looked like he was beaten on an initial move. Even on the play in which Ngata beat Jensen for the sack, the Pro Bowl defender had to earn it.
• Deonte Thompson continues to impress in his route running. He is especially dangerous on double moves, blowing by defenders after making his second move. Thompson accelerates in and out of his cuts without losing top-end speed.
• Will Hill was more active today as a blitzer at the line-of-scrimmage. He also looked great on a jam in which he stymied tight end Nathan Overbay at the line and threw off his balance. Given his size and physical aggressiveness, it will be interesting to see if the Ravens use Hill as more of a box defender when he finishes his six-game suspension.
• Linebacker Josh Bynes split the first-team snaps with Arthur Brown.