Defensive line could be the Ravens' best

After the Atlanta Falcons pummeled the Ravens' defensive front last week with 170 rushing yards on 40 carries, coordinator Dean Pees was not pleased. Against the Carolina Panthers on Thursday night, he expects the unit to be better.

And it will be.

The defensive line is a work in progress, but this could be the best group in team history. The front four of the record-setting team that won the Super Bowl in 2001 had more talent, but this group has more of everything else.

The current Ravens have their own share of talent, and they possess more speed, size, depth, flexibility and versatility than the championship group. Now, it is just a matter of putting it all together for the 2013 regular season. The Ravens had a great start in the preseason opener against Tampa Bay, but they got shoved around by a championship-contending Atlanta team.

Carolina won't be as good as the Falcons, but the Ravens are more concerned about technique than winning games. If the play is consistent, then a team wins its share of games.

"Well, the biggest thing is we had some technique errors and didn't play the run particularly well," said Pees of the preseason game against the Falcons. "It's just a matter of everybody — when we're watching film — everybody's just got to do their job and let the defense and the structure and the scheme take care of itself. You want to make plays and at some point in time, you've got to get off the block, but you've got to know when to do it. That's where we got hurt, I thought, last week."

Pees won't comment on how talented this group can be. It doesn't make much sense at this point. But he has seen enough in offseason workouts and training camp to know it can be special. The work ethic is strong, so now it is all about chemistry.

"This is one of the hardest-working football teams I've ever been around," Ravens defensive end Chris Canty said. "This rivals those Bill Parcells training camp practices when I was in Dallas, when we'd have eight straight two-a-days. It feels like we've had two-a-days here and we've only had one practice every day. Coach wants us to be battle-hardened guys. He wants to have a tough football team."

The Ravens have all the vital ingredients. They've got the stud in nose tackle Haloti Ngata, who gave the team a special bonus by reporting to training camp in good shape. In Ngata, the Ravens have a player who specializes in stopping the run, but can also get pressure on the quarterback.

Fourth-year defensive tackle Arthur Jones could have a breakout season. He emerged as a strong pass rusher at the end of last season, but needs to play more consistently this year. So far, he might be having the best camp of any defensive linemen.

And then there is Canty, possibly the missing link of this defense for the past decade. General manager Ozzie Newsome always had the big, beefy, burly players in the middle, but Canty is from a different mold. He is long, lean and can play the run as well as the pass. With those long arms and the ability to work leverage, he can collapse a pocket or knock down passes.

Canty is also a strong leader in the locker room.

"True pro. I can't say enough good things about him," Pees said. "I have no idea what he was like at any other team, but I'll tell you what, he has walked into our room and just fit in like he has always been here. He is a really good pro. He studies. He asks great questions. When you give him a tip or something, he takes it. It's not one of those, 'I know what I'm doing.' He's really a great pro. He's a great addition to this defense."

The 2000 defensive line was simply great. Giant tackles Tony Siragusa and Sam Adams stopped everything up the middle and kept opposing offensive linemen off middle linebacker Ray Lewis. Right end Michael McCrary was one of the league's best pass rushers and left end Rob Burnett was a strong, steady good all-around player.

But that group had only one player, tackle Larry Webster, it could bring in off the bench without losing much. This group goes deep, and they're young. Rookie Brandon Williams has good potential and fourth-year player Terrence Cody is having his best camp in four years.

If veteran tackle Marcus Spears' hamstring injury improves in the coming weeks, the Ravens can go six-deep in the rotation. They also have the luxury of moving linebackers Terrell Suggs or Pernell McPhee inside on pass rushing situations.

It's a versatile group. Most the defensive linemen can play end or tackle. The Ravens moved a lot of them around against the Falcons, which contributed to giving up so many yards.

"For example, Chris Canty could start out as a five-technique to the tight end and if something happens where he moves, he could end up being the three-technique," Pees said. "We haven't really done a whole lot of that in the past. We're trying to do that now when we can experiment with it, see if it works and see if there are some things that we can do."

That is part of the reason there is a lot of excitement about this group. There is no guarantee that they will meet expectations, but they will certainly improve from the 122.8 rushing yards they allowed last season. And with Suggs rushing from one side and Elvis Dumervil from the other, this group could be really special.

Potentially, the best in Ravens history.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

 
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