The Ravens have been ranked in the top 10 against the run in 12 of the last 13 years and in the top five for six consecutive seasons. But with the unit losing a pair of outside linebackers in Terrell Suggs (torn right Achilles tendon) and Jarret Johnson (free agent who departed for the San Diego Chargers) who were often overlooked for their ability to force opposing running backs to the middle of the defense, can the defense continue that strong tradition?
A lot could depend on how Paul Kruger and rookie Courtney Upshaw – who are penciled in as the starting outside linebackers – rise to the occasion, but defensive tackle Haloti Ngata said he's not overly concerned.
"I think we still have some work to do, but we have a lot of young guys that are trying to learn – especially the guys with the edges and with Paul Kruger and with Upshaw and all the other guys behind them," Ngata said after Monday's practice at the team's training facility in Owings Mills. "So it's just getting those guys together and setting those fronts and getting some camaraderie together out there on the field. I don't think we really play together well yet, just because it's so new and young. Once we get those things together, I think we'll be really good and up there again."
The good news is that nine of the 13 opponents the Ravens will face in the regular season ranked outside of the top 10 in rushing. And six (Dallas Cowboys, Cincinnati Bengals, New England Patriots, Washington Redskins, Cleveland Browns and New York Giants) finished in the bottom half of the NFL in run yards per game.
The unit, which also lost starting defensive end Cory Redding to the Indianapolis Colts, has bid farewell to players in the past. But defensive line coach Clarence Brooks said preparations for the upcoming season won't stop for the Ravens.
"You never like to lose guys, but the nature of this business is, guys are going to come and guys are going to go," he said. "It's just the way it is. It's not a concern. You just kind of have to look at what you have and say, 'OK, let's move on. Where do we go from here? How are we going to do this?' Luckily enough, we have some good, young bodies around here that we feel will come along well. Like I said, it's not a concern. It's more of kind of figuring out how the pieces are going to fit in the puzzle after they're gone."