The Ravens may have to meet the Denver Broncos Sunday without their top three inside linebackers in Ray Lewis (torn right triceps), Jameel McClain (neck stinger) and Dannell Ellerbe (right ankle, left foot, both thumbs). That would leave the defense with just three healthy inside linebackers in Josh Bynes, Brendon Ayanbadejo and Albert McClellan.
Both McClellan and Bynes are undrafted players, and Ayanbadejo is 36 years old. Dean Pees acknowledged that there is a difference between that trio and the group of Lewis, McClain and Ellerbe, but the defensive coordinator said the biggest impact is a reduction in the number of packages the Ravens can employ.
“We were kind of coming along a little bit because we kind of had all these packages devised where you can be in this package and we can do this or you can be in this package and we can do that,” Pees said Thursday. “All of a sudden, those packages have shrunk because we don’t have guys to put in that package. So that package is out. So that’s kind of changed a little bit. It hurts you a little bit. It’s actually hurt us a couple times in the last two games, trying to close this thing out because we’re wanting to do things that maybe we can’t do or if we do call something, it’s probably the first time that guy has actually had to do it in a game situation, and it didn’t turn out so well.”
Ayanbadejo, Bynes and McClellan have carved out a niche through their play on special teams, but are not being asked to absorb the assignments that Lewis, McClain and Ellerbe would normally run on defense.
“Basically, all the guys that were playing special teams are now playing defense,” Ayanbadejo said. “So now it’s tough sledding. … But it’s the old adage. Next man up. Got to get the job done.”
It’s unclear which two players from that trio would start if Lewis and Ellerbe join McClain, who has already been ruled out, on the sideline. Bynes played 44 of 72 snaps (62 percent) on defense and made five tackles in the team’s 31-28 overtime loss to the Washington Redskins last Sunday. Ayanbadejo was next with 40 snaps (56 percent) and finished with seven tackles, and McClellan brought up the rear with 26 snaps (36 percent) and three stops.
But McClellan made one start at inside linebacker in the Ravens’ 16-6 victory over the San Francisco 49ers and said he feels comfortable playing either inside or outside.
“All of us on the field are comfortable,” McClellan said. “Being an outside linebacker for most of my career, it’s more comfortable out there. But inside, it’s getting a little bit better.”
The re-tooled inside linebacking corps will be severely tested by Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning and a suddenly revived running game led by Knowshon Moreno. But Bynes disputed the notion that the pressure has ramped up significantly.
“I don’t want to say pressure because then you put more pressure on yourself and it makes you play out of what you normally do,” Bynes said. “Regardless of what anybody else says, me, Albert and BA [Ayanbadejo] are going to go out there and do what we’re supposed to do for this team. Of course, I’m not Ray Lewis. BA’s not. He’s Ayanbadejo. I’m Josh Bynes, and that’s who we’re going to play like.”