The NFL offseason heats up on Tuesday when the free agency period begins and the NFL draft will take place next month. In anticipation of those events, blogger and reporter Matt Vensel will look at six key positions the Ravens might address in free agency and the NFL draft in the days leading up to the start of free agency.
Asked about the team's offseason needs last month, Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome said he wanted to strength the middle of the defense. Naturally, the Ravens need reinforcements at inside linebacker and safety because Ray Lewis has retired and Ed Reed isn't a lock to return. But defensive tackle may be the biggest hole.
Terrence Cody, a 2010 second-round draft pick, has been a massive disappointment. He lost his starting job to veteran Ma'ake Kemoeatu last season, and neither nose tackle played particularly well (both received negative grades from Pro Football Focus). That was one of the main reasons the defense ranked 20th against the run.
The Ravens are expected to address the position this offseason, perhaps in free agency but more likely in April's NFL draft.
Where they stand: Kemoeatu, 34, is an unrestricted free agent and Cody, 24, has one year left on his rookie deal. At this point, each player should be viewed as a backup at best. The Ravens also have veteran Haloti Ngata and youngsters Arthur Jones, Pernell McPhee, DeAngelo Tyson and Bryan Hall. But only Ngata has the size and girth to anchor the line on a full-time basis, and he usually plays defensive end, not nose tackle.
Who's out there: Veteran free agents such as Oakland's Richard Seymour, Philadelphia's Cullen Jenkins, Kansas City's Glenn Dorsey, and San Francisco's Ricky Jean-Francois have experience playing in a 3-4 scheme, but none are prototypical nose tackles. Pittsburgh's Casey Hampton and Jacksonville's Terrance Knighton fit that mold, but each would come with his own set of question marks. Finding a new starter in the draft might be a more fruitful endeavor. Defensive tackle is one of the draft's deepest positions. Players such as Georgia's Johnathan Jenkins, Ohio State's Johnathan Hankins and Alabama's Jesse Williams may be available at pick No. 32. Someone such as Georgia Tech's T.J. Barnes or Tennessee-Martin's Montori Hughes might interest them in the later rounds.
Stat that stands out: negative-12.2 -- the combined grade for Kemoeatu and Cody in 2012, including playoffs, from the guys over at Pro Football Focus. Kemoeatu, who played nearly 100 more snaps than Cody, received a negative-5.7 grade. Cody earned a negative-6.5. PFF graded them as a combined negative-3.3 against the run.
What they might do: The Ravens will probably move on from Kemoeatu and let Cody play out the final year of his contract before deciding what to do with him. They could sign an inexpensive veteran later in the spring like they did a year ago with Kemoeatu, but if the Ravens are serious about improving at defensive tackle -- and it sounds like they are -- they must address the position in the draft, perhaps even in the first couple of rounds.
Check back at the Blitz on Sunday for a look at how the Ravens might address the offensive tackle position.