The Baltimore sports scene is blessed with a bunch of talented bloggers who bring their unique perspective to the conversation. Each week, I hope to chat with one of them in a regular feature called Blogger on Blogger. This week, I exchanged emails with Dan Bryden, who blogs about the Ravens for Baltimore Sports and Life.
MV: The Ravens overhauled their front seven in the offseason and there could be as many as five new starters there this season. How do you see them utilizing the newcomers and do you anticipate any schematic changes?
DB: As we all know, Dean Pees will move players around to many spots with various responsibilities. But the new guys I see making an immediate impact are Chris Canty, Arthur Brown and Elvis Dumervil. At a towering 6 feet 7, Chris Canty showed the ability to penetrate as an interior pass rusher as well as maintain gap integrity in the lateral run game. Many are high on Arthur Brown and, although expectations should be tempered based on his youth and offseason injuries, I see Brown as a welcome addition in many ways. His fit at the weakside linebacker spot is ideal because he can accentuate his ability to sift through the “trash” and scrape to make tackles on lateral runs while minimizing head-on impacts, which were a weakness of his. I don’t expect a sack-per-game year from Dumervil, but provided Pees’ scheme can reduce his run-down snaps, he fits extremely well as a rush specialist away from the offensive strength.
MV: What about linebacker Daryl Smith in particular? He flew under the radar for many years in Jacksonville. If he is healthy, what are your expectations for him?
DB: Daryl Smith has quietly had a very productive career as a Jaguar. Smith played each linebacker spot in their 4-3, but his home position was on the strong side. I think he was miscast in this role, as he often used every bit of strength and positioning he could muster just to stalemate bigger lineman and fullbacks in the run game. Smith does his best work when protected from bigger bodies (i.e. ILB in the standard 3-4 or weakside in a 4-3). What concerns me most about Smith is his cover skills. Entering his 10th year, he still has impressive straight-line speed to stick with tight ends up the seam, but his hips no longer have the flexibility to change direction, especially in the horizontal plane. I expect to see the Ravens run more of a traditional 3-4 this year allowing the D-line to eat up space and keep the larger blockers away from the smallish linebackers Smith and Brown.
MV: Matt Elam was all over the place -- in a good way -- during the mandatory minicamp a couple of weeks ago. Having watched him in college, what do you expect his role will be and how will he mesh with Michael Huff?
DB: Elam’s versatility was likely a huge selling point for Ozzie and Co. during the draft. Elam played all over Florida’s secondary, including slot corner, deep half safety, single-high safety, and outside corner. That said, I think Huff is the biggest free agency addition this offseason, and I can see him and Elam playing off each other in many unpredictable ways. I expect Elam to play near the line of scrimmage more often as an outside run support guy or QB Spy/Robber. Any mistakes that Elam makes due to his attacking nature can be covered up by Huff’s above-average range on the back end. Elam and Huff are an improvement over Pollard and Reed in my eyes, but Pees won’t need to revamp his strategy. Huff and Elam will fit very well into a scheme that leans on Cover-4, Cover-3, and disguised outside blitzes. My biggest concern about Elam (besides his hyper-aggressiveness) is covering tight ends or taller wide receivers. The scheme can only hide the fact that he is 5-10 for so long.
MV: The Ravens cut All-Pro fullback Vonta Leach two weeks ago, leaving Kyle Juszczyk as the only fullback on the team, though there are questions about his ability to be a lead blocker. How might the Ravens adapt without Leach?
DB: I doubt anyone would be surprised if the Ravens played with traditional two-back sets far less this coming season. Although Juszczyk only gives up about 10 pounds to Leach, I see him being used as less of a fullback and more like a “move” tight-end or H-back. I assume he will catch a lot of passes in the flat and will be the receiver on back-side screens, similar to Leach. Ultimately, I think the collective question marks surrounding his usage are exactly what the Ravens want, especially since Flacco now has more personal control; the offense can call plays in response to the defense. Against smaller personnel, Juszczyk can crack-block defensive ends or work across the formation to blindside or “wham” an unblocked defensive lineman. If the defense assigns a thumping linebacker to him, he is elusive enough to outrun him in space.
MV: Outside of letting go of Leach and Anquan Boldin, most of the key contributors on offense remain in Baltimore. Do you think the offense will be very similar to last season, or will it continue to evolve under Jim Caldwell?
DB: Caldwell’s offense only showed subtle changes from Cameron’s given a small sample size. A few of these changes included more combination routes (particularly in the deep game) and designed routes for Ray Rice to allow him to catch the ball in stride against mismatched linebackers. Losing Boldin will have a huge impact on the way the offense runs this coming year. There is no true replacement on this roster, so players with other strengths will fill that void. Players like Ed Dickson will be a bigger part of the offense after having to watch from the bench for much of last season. Dickson does not block particularly well for a tight end, but his route running and rapport with Flacco will be an asset, especially when Flacco begins to scramble. There has been talk of keeping Jacoby Jones from extensive offensive time due to his explosiveness on special teams. I, for one, am against this strategy and think he can fill a much bigger need as another deep threat in the passing game.
If you are a blogger who is interested in participating in this feature, email me at email@example.com.