After months of waiting and wondering, we will finally get our first look at the revamped Ravens defense in a game tonight when the Ravens open the preseason against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who went 7-9 in 2012.
Yes, I know it is just an exhibition and the play calls will be pretty vanilla. Plus, some starters may play just one series or a quarter (coach John Harbaugh wouldn’t say when he was asked about it a couple of days ago).
Still, the Buccaneers will serve as a nice first challenge for a defense that could have as many as six or seven new starters on the field tonight. There will be two new starting safeties and two new inside linebackers. If Elvis Dumervil starts at outside linebacker, that would make five. And there will be one or two new starters on the defensive line, depending on whether Haloti Ngata starts at the nose or shifts back over to defensive tackle.
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For one, with all those new faces and a new person not named Ray Lewis wearing the green dot on the back of his helmet, playing against any NFL team would be a valuable exercise.
But the Buccaneers have a talented offense that will test the new-look defense. They have the personnel to be a top-10 offense if quarterback Josh Freeman can perform consistently.
The Buccaneers have a powerful little back in Doug Martin, who as a rookie often got compared to Ray Rice. Martin averaged 4.6 yards per carry last season. They have a lot of muscle up front, led by left guard Carl Nicks, who is healthy after an injury cut his 2012 season short. I’m curious to see how the Ravens’ beefed-up front seven fares against a quality running attack.
Tampa Bay’s passing attack should test the defense as well. The Buccaneers have a pair of tall, physical pass-catchers in Vincent Jackson and Mike Williams. I’m interested to see how cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Corey Graham match up with those two, particularly Smith, who is in his third season. I am also eager to see Terrell Suggs and Dumervil chase after a quarterback who won’t be wearing a red non-contact jersey.
You might not be geeked up to watch the starters play for maybe 15 or 20 minutes tops in a game that doesn’t count in the standings. But it will definitely be worth tuning in to see what kind of first impression the revamped Ravens defense makes.