Ravens players will be on the field this week for the start of organized team activities. Thursday’s session is open to reporters. The three weeks of voluntary OTAs will lead into the mandatory minicamp, which will be held June 13-15.
The Baltimore Sun will project the team’s offensive, defensive and special teams depth charts ahead of the workouts. Today, we’ll look at the defense and special teams. Monday, we examined the offense.
Rush linebacker: Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Boseko Lokombo
Skinny: Suggs played 66 percent of the Ravens’ defensive snaps in 2016, a number that could go down given his age (he turns 35 in October) and the team’s depth at outside linebacker. Still, he’s a defensive leader and stout against the run, so he’ll be on the field plenty. It will be interesting to see whether the coaching staff simplifies things for Williams, a rookie third-round draft pick, and allows him to just focus on getting to the quarterback. After a disappointing sophomore season, Smith will have to earn his snaps with a productive summer.
Defensive end: Brent Urban, Chris Wormley, Bronson Kaufusi
Skinny: Lawrence Guy started for parts of two seasons at the five-technique defensive end spot, but his departure in free agency provides an opening for several young players. This will be one of the most interesting position competitions in training camp. Urban might be first on the depth chart now, but that’s more a nod to his experience. Wormley, a rookie third-round pick, is said to be NFL-ready. Kaufusi, a third-rounder in 2016 who missed his entire rookie season with a broken ankle, could factor in as well.
Defensive tackle: Michael Pierce, Carl Davis, Patrick Ricard
Skinny: After trading Timmy Jernigan this offseason, the Ravens could go in a couple of directions here. In obvious run situations, it seems likely they’ll line up Pierce next to nose tackle Brandon Williams, creating one of the biggest interior pairings in the NFL. Pierce showed some pass-rushing ability last year, too. Third-year pro Carl Davis also figures to crack the defensive line rotation after he spent the 2016 season on injured reserve.
Nose tackle: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry
Skinny: The Ravens ensured that Williams will be the anchor of their defensive line rotation for many years by signing him to a five-year, $52.5 million contract this offseason. Williams played 61 percent of the team’s defensive snaps last season. The Ravens like maintaining a deep defensive line rotation and there’s room for younger players, such as Henry and Davis, to step in and play key roles.
Strong-side linebacker: Matthew Judon, Tyus Bowser, Brennen Beyer, Randy Allen
Skinny: The Ravens took Bowser in the second round because they believe he can step in immediately and start at strong-side linebacker. However, he’ll have to beat out Judon for the starting job. Judon had a promising rookie season with four sacks, and another offseason in the weight room and with the defensive playbook should help him take the next step. If both young linebackers falter, the Ravens could use Albert McClellan in this spot as well.
Middle linebacker: C.J. Mosley, Albert McClellan, Lamar Louis
Skinny: Mosley has missed just two games in three NFL seasons, and keeping him healthy is essential this season with the Ravens lacking experienced depth at inside linebacker. With the team's defensive improvements at other spots, a strong case could be made that Mosley is the group’s most indispensable player. Because of his experience and knowledge of the defense, McClellan is the likely fill-in if Mosley goes down.
Weak-side linebacker: Kamalei Correa, Patrick Onwuasor, Bam Bradley, Donald Payne
Skinny: The sudden offseason retirement of 2016 leading tackler Zachary Orr left the Ravens with a huge void alongside Mosley. That team officials haven’t added another veteran – and there’s been no indication such a move is imminent – is a show of faith in Correa. A second-round pick last year, Correa played just 48 defensive snaps as a rookie. The Ravens will give him every chance to earn a starting job. Onwuasor, a good special teams player, and McClellan will be next up if Correa doesn’t seize it.
Cornerback: Jimmy Smith, Marlon Humphrey, Maurice Canady, Sheldon Price, Robertson Daniel
Skinny: For all the perceived improvements the Ravens made on the back end, Smith remains their top cover corner and the team needs him healthy. Smith has played more than 11 games in just two of his six NFL seasons. The team doesn’t want to have to rush Humphrey, its first-round pick this year, into a starting role. He’ll likely enter camp as the No. 4 corner, but he probably won’t stay in that spot for long. Canady can play both corner and safety, and should help immediately on special teams.
Cornerback: Brandon Carr, Tavon Young, Kyle Arrington, Carlos Davis, Jaylen Hill
Skinny: Carr, a 10-year veteran, is expected to start at corner opposite Smith. He has started every game in his career and while he’s not considered a shutdown guy, his experience and durability should help a cornerback group that has lacked both in recent years. After starting 11 games in a solid rookie season, Young is expected to move to the slot, a better fit given his size. It isn’t yet clear whether Arrington, who missed all of last season because of a concussion, is healthy again and in the team’s plans.
Strong safety: Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine Sr., Chuck Clark
Skinny: Jefferson was a big free-agent addition for the Ravens because of his ability to cover over the top and move closer to the line of scrimmage to help against the run. His presence will allow Eric Weddle to do what he does best, which is play center field and read quarterbacks. Levine and Clark, a rookie sixth-round pick, should be factors on special teams.
Free safety: Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Otha Foster, Daniel Henry
Skinny: In his first season with the Ravens, Weddle finished third on the team with 89 tackles. He led the team with 13 passes defended and tied for the team lead with four interceptions. He remains an impact player who the Ravens are counting on. A 16-game starter last year, Webb re-signed with the Ravens to be the No. 3 safety. He gives defensive coordinator Dean Pees options on third down.
Kicker: Justin Tucker
Punter: Sam Koch, Kenny Allen
Long snapper: Morgan Cox
Punt returner: Michael Campanaro, Lardarius Webb, Keenan Reynolds
Kick returner: Chris Moore, Kenneth Dixon, Danny Woodhead, Tim White, Carlos Davis
Skinny: The Ravens’ kicking battery of Tucker, Koch and Cox is in place for a sixth consecutive season. The Ravens believe they have the best group of specialists in the NFL, and stability at those spots has made their special teams group one of the best annually in the league. Allen, who kicked and punted at Michigan, is an extra camp leg, allowing the Ravens to not tax Tucker and Koch during training camp. As with Wil Lutz last year, a strong summer should lead to an opportunity elsewhere. As for the returner spots, Campanaro did a nice job last year in invigorating the punt return game after the struggles of Devin Hester Sr. Assuming Campanaro's healthy, he should get the first shot in that role this year. The Ravens are more unsettled at kick returner, but they have a host of options. Moore averaged 23.1 yards on seven kickoff returns last year and probably will enter training camp as the favorite for that job. The Ravens, though, added several players with return experience, including undrafted rookies White and Davis.