'What is old?' For aging Ravens, performance is all that matters

Despite bringing in several free agents over the age of 30, the Ravens are finding new ways and hoping some young players help the team transition into the 2016 season.

The Ravens have signed tight end Ben Watson, 35, receiver Mike Wallace, 29, and safety Eric Weddle, 32, to a roster which already includes several 30-somethings such as receiver Steve Smith, 36 and linebackers Terrell Suggs, 33 and Elvis Dumervil, 30.


But as of Monday, head coach John Harbaugh didn't seem too concerned.

"I don't know the average age of this team," said Harbaugh. "What, we have five, six or seven older guys? What is old? It depends on the individual. In some ways, 30 could be old. In a way we are a young team because we have a lot of young guys who will need to step up."


Maybe the most important player is C.J. Mosley, the third-year middle linebacker and former first round pick out of Alabama.

As a rookie in 2014, Mosley finished with 129 tackles and was the first rookie in Ravens history to earn Pro Bowl honors. Last year, he started and finished strong, but wasn't an impact player during the middle stretch.

The Ravens didn't re-sign veteran middle linebacker Daryl Smith during the offseason, so it's Mosley's turn to take the mantle from Smith, who accepted it from Ray Lewis, who retired at the end of the 2012 season.

"I would say, yes, he is ready for it, he is that kind of guy," Harbaugh said of Mosley. "We're looking for another big jump going into the third year and he can take it to another new level this season. This year, he is healthy, unlike a year ago where he had issues with his wrist, and couldn't lift until July."


Two other young players who will play important roles are defensive linemen Timmy Jernigan and Brandon Williams. As a second-year player last year, Jernigan had 37 tackles and caused problems because of his explosiveness off the ball and ability to penetrate.

Williams, a fourth year player, was one of the better run-stoppers in the NFL, but could reach a Pro Bowl level if he becomes more of a pass-rusher. Both could become young leaders to help ease the load off guys like quarterback Joe Flacco, guard Marshal Yanda, Smith, Suggs and Dumervil.

But will the Ravens have that iconic leadership that was exhibited by Ray Lewis and safety Ed Reed?

"It depends on how good a player they are going to be. That is a tough question right there," Harbaugh said.

Harbaughseems to have found some answers in the off season. The Ravens recently hired Steve Saunders as their Director of Performance and Recovery, and they began implementing new technology Monday that could reduce the number of injuries while also increasing the production of players, especially older players.

The Ravens will install cameras that shoot every practice and track players' body movements. Then every three or four days, certain players will be given a test on certain jumps and movement patterns.

In the past, Harbaugh has done a good job of communicating with his veterans and giving them specific days off in training camp and during the season.

"I wouldn't say this new technology is revolutionary, but it is a piece," Harbaugh said. "I thought we've done a good job in the past giving guys like Steve or Marshal every third or fourth day off and communicating with them, just to give them a break."

"Now we've moved on to the next level where these tests and cameras will tell us exactly where they are: what areas of the body might not be firing, what areas might be fatigued or need some tweaking. It will give us a good handle on when guys need rest, more so than in the past."

These tests weren't the main reason the Ravens went out and signed players like Watson and Weddle, but it helped. With Wallace, the Ravens needed speed on the outside because they didn't want to again count on second-year player Breshad Perriman, who missed his entire rookie season with a knee injury.

Watson should give the Ravens some consistency at tight end while Weddle will be the quarterback on the back end of the defense. The Ravens have spent a lot of time during this offseason retooling their defense, which was one of the league's worst in the first half of the season, and one of the best in the final eight games.

"We have got to get better at executing on the back end of defense," said Harbaugh, who hired Leslie Frazier as his secondary coach this offseason. "We accomplished it in the last eight games of the season, but obviously we've got to make more plays back there.

"We have worked real hard at the X & O's, where they didn't have to process as much so they could play fast. Now we have a guy [Weddle] back there who can process it like Ed and that is very valuable."

The Ravens feel good about themselves right now, but they clearly aren't satisfied. They still have a number of issues to address, like finding a left offensive tackle, a cornerback and a pass rusher.

And then there is the old issue of Suggs, returning this season after missing 15 games a year ago with a torn Achilles heel.

"It's Terrell Suggs," Harbaugh said. "We have a relationship. He knows me, I know him and I think he will be determined to have a good year. It's on him. When you get to this stage of your career, you determine how you want to finish, how you want to write your legacy, how you want to be remembered in the last one, two, three or four years, or whatever you have left.

"I expect him to be healthy, highly motivated and ready to go for the first game."

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