Before tonight’s preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons, Daryl Smith won’t dance out of the tunnel at M&T Bank Stadium like Ray Lewis used to do.
Smith will, however, be the one who gets to replace Lewis at middle linebacker. With the regular season just three weeks away, Smith appears to have that starting spot locked up.
Smith started there against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and had a team-high five tackles in the victory.
“Yeah, Daryl is that kind of player,” coach John Harbaugh, asked about Smith always being around the ball, said after the 44-16 win last Thursday. “Nothing different than what he’s done all those years in Jacksonville. He played really well, becoming somewhat of a quarterback of the defense, because he calls the defenses.”
The other inside linebacker spot? Well, that one is wide open.
With Smith penciled in at middle linebacker, three other players are vying to start next to him at weak-side linebacker. Josh Bynes got the start there last week and made three tackles, including one for a loss. Arthur Brown, a second-round pick in April’s draft, played with the first-team defense in the nickel package and fared OK. Albert McClellan played sparingly in Tampa Bay, but he has the most experience of this trio.
As I wrote a couple of weeks ago, each of those players brings a little something to the table. McClellan is a capable of playing all four linebacker positions and that versatility is the best thing he has going for him. Brown has speed and cover skills, which is why he played in the nickel. And Bynes is a downhill run defender whom Harbaugh says is the frontrunner.
“I would say Josh has only gotten better,” Harbaugh said this week. “He equated himself very well in there, as you saw. He played like a starting inside linebacker. So he’s the leader right now for that spot, and he’s going to be challenged by a couple other guys strongly, but he played very well.”
In the immediate future, I suspect we will see Bynes playing on early downs and Brown coming in for passing situations, much like how the Ravens have been rotating Courtney Upshaw and Elvis Dumervil at strong-side linebacker. But at some point, I imagine we will see Brown, who is a superior athlete with a good head on his shoulders, replace Bynes at weak-side linebacker.
For now, though, it appears the weak-side spot is his to lose.