Last week we took a look at the key position battles on the offensive side of the ball heading into training camp. Now let’s shift gears a little and look at the defense.
Dean Pees should feel like a kid on Christmas morning after how defense-heavy Ozzie Newsome went this offseason. The defense is much deeper, and there will be some interesting position battles.
It’s a strange situation for Ravens fans – the thought that there may be multiple solid options at CB – but finally our dream has been realized. No more castaway veterans. We finally have some position battles between some solid prospects at corner.
Most fans of the purple and black are penclling in Brandon Carr as the second corner behind Jimmy Smith. He may have that spot to start camp, but first-round draft pick, Marlon Humphrey will be breathing down his neck.
Brandon Carr: Carr comes to the Ravens from the Cowboys, where he had 66 tackles, nine pass defenses and one interception last year. He is one of the most reliable corners in the league, having never missed a game and starting in every single game of his nine-year career. He is not an elite playmaker, but a solid corner that will stick with his man and make sure tackles. He held A.J. Green to just four catches for 50 yards in their meeting last year, which should delight Ravens fans.
Marlon Humphrey: The best word to describe Humphrey is “potential.” The kid has a lot of it. He can be described as a slightly more athletic Jimmy Smith, which would be a treat for the Ravens secondary. Humphrey has a lot of athleticism and a track and field background. He may hit some of the speed bumps that Smith had as well, but the kid plays confident, fast, and got better every year during his time at Alabama.
The best way to approach this battle is to ease Humphrey in. He may be prone to getting beat, but he has some traits that you just can’t teach. Carr will start the beginning of the season, but don’t be surprised to see Humphrey take over by year’s end. Smith is usually good for one injury per year and the Ravens finally have someone capable to step in for him if he does go down.
Brandon Boykin: Boykin missed the entire 2016 season with the Bears due to a pectoral injury suffered prior to the season. Before that, Boykin was regarded as a solid slot cornerback and compiled eight interceptions in four seasons with the Eagles (including six in 2013). Boykin will need to find his bearings, but he brings a veteran experience and good quickness and range for a slot corner.
Maurice Canady: We didn’t get a good look at Canady last year due to a season-ending hamstring injury suffered in October. He has good size, speed, and most importantly, football IQ. Canady’s physical abilities seem better suited for the outside, but with this opportunity we will see him get reps in the slot. His length and IQ will help him in Pees’ zone-heavy defense. He is a good fit for the scheme.
Canady shocks the Ravens fan base and grab the bull by the horns by taking the slot corner position from the veteran. He was impressive in OTAs, showing a knack for finding the ball and making plays. Watch out for this kid. Cornerback could be a strength for the Ravens defense for the first time in a long time.
Ravens fans were disappointed last year that second rounder Kamalei Correa didn’t step into the starting SAM role, but the Ravens have an interesting battle there this year, with Correa expected to lock down the ILB position beside staple C.J. Mosley.
Tyus Bowser: In a lot of ways Bowser reminds you of Correa. He’s athletic, with quick-twitch pass rushing abilities and good instincts. What separates the two is that Bowser got more experience in pass coverage in college than Correa did. Correa played the DE position at Boise State, whereas Bowser was in the SAM role. He can tackle, set the edge, rush the passer and drop into coverage, which is exactly what you want from your SAM.
Matt Judon: Last season, rookie pass rusher Judon lived up to expectations and showed an ability to get to the quarterback, notching four sacks in limited playing time. With the departure of Elvis Dumervil, the chance for Judon to grab the SAM position opened. He has the athleticism you want to see from a SAM, but the question remains of how he will operate in space.
Albert McClellan: The special teams ace got the starting snaps at SAM until Dumervil returned from injury last year. He will once again be in the running, but he will have an outside chance given the young guys mentioned above fighting for playing time.
Bowser will lock down the SAM position from day one. He could not be more suited for Pees’ scheme. Judon will get some looks on pass rushing downs, as will rookie Tim Williams, but that will be when they go into a nickel package which means the SAM is playing more as a DE. The great thing is that Bowser can do that too.
The departure of Lawrence Guy was quiet, but on game day may be one of the team’s most noticeable losses. Guy was hands down one of the most underrated Ravens last year. The list of guys battling for his position, as well as Timmy Jernigan’s, is quite lengthy.
5-Tech DE (Guy replacement)
Chris Wormley: The rookie will have his work cut out for him to make an impact, but he has the athleticism and the bulk to take over the 5-tech DT position. He anchored the DL for Michigan and was very difficult to move. That’s exactly what Guy brought last year. The upside is that Wormley also brings pass rush abilities when the Ravens go into the nickel, something that Guy never provided.
Bronson Kaufusi: Kaufusi unfortunately lost his rookie year to a broken ankle suffered last August. Kaufusi comes from a bit of a different mold compared to Wormley, in that he’s a little more of a finesse player. At BYU they moved him up and down the line. On the inside he used his athleticism and on the outside he used his strength. Kaufusi may be best suited for 3rd down DT duties, but will push for a starting position, especially with offensive lines becoming more athletic around the league.
Brent Urban: The veteran Urban is in a make-or-break season entering his 3rd NFL campaign, and does not have much of a resume to his name. He’s been buried on the depth chart on the Ravens’ always-loaded defensive line. Urban provides a lot of size and toughness to fill the role, but he’s never been able to really stand out. He’s now being pushed by two young players and has his work cut out for him.
It’s hard to predict too many rookies to be starters, but like Bowser, Wormley is going to grab the bull by the horns. He is the ideal replacement for Guy and provides a skill set for all three downs.
3-Tech DT (Jernigan replacement)
Jernigan never lived up to the hype and brought some very inconsistent play in his two seasons. With his departure, it’s time for someone to seize that 3-tech position.
Willie Henry: The Michigan product didn’t play a single snap last year and was placed on IR in November. Henry has a lot of athleticism for a guy that’s 6’3, 303 pounds and possesses very quick feet. He notched 6.5 sacks in his senior year and may bring the consistency, particularly with his motor, that Jernigan was unable to provide.
Michael Pierce: Last year’s UDFA standout had a strong rookie year, finishing with 35 tackles and two sacks. Pierce has ridiculous quickness for a 6-foot, 340-pound guy. While his overall skill set isn’t close to that of Haloti Ngata, his quickness certainly is. Pierce beside Williams could really clog up the running lanes, while Pierce has shown that he can also offer pass rush abilities. He should only get better.
This is Pierce’s battle to lose. Henry will get some looks and they could form a healthy rotation, which is always good for a defensive line, but Pierce could turn into something special.