When Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell became available on the trade market in March, the Ravens paid handsomely to secure his arrival in Baltimore. When a deal for defensive lineman Michael Brockers fell through not long after, they moved swiftly to sign defensive end Derek Wolfe, who didn’t need much convincing.
But another move could be just as important to the rehabilitation of the Ravens’ defensive front this season. It’s a smaller move — one that requires a shift of only a couple feet along the line of scrimmage.
“Going back to nose, I’m pretty much back home, you know?” defensive tackle Brandon Williams said in a conference call Friday. With nose tackle Michael Pierce no longer in Baltimore, Williams won’t have to play much, if at all, as a three-technique (lined up over the guard’s outside shoulder). He’ll be back to taking on centers, “playing what I know, playing what I’m naturally used to doing all the time.”
He added: “If I got to play the three for my team, then I’ve got to, because that’s what they need from me. That’s what I’m here for. But I’m back in my natural habitat. I’m ready to take on double teams, go against centers again and just wreak havoc in the middle. That’s my job. I’m ready to do it.”
And he’s done it exceptionally well. According to Pro Football Focus, Williams ranked as the NFL’s No. 91 defensive lineman over the past three years when lining up at positions besides nose tackle. But at nose tackle, where he started his career, he rated as the NFL’s fourth-best lineman and second-best run defender.
In Campbell and Wolfe, a pair of “twin towers” who will start on either side of him, Williams has talented help. But as he approached his eighth season as an NFL heavyweight, Williams made sure to help himself, too. Wary of double teams and stress on his joints, Williams changed his diet, eating more greens. He said he’s lost weight — the team lists him at 6 feet 1, 336 pounds — but not size. Muscle has replaced fat.
“I’m trying to get my beach body going on,” Williams said, smiling. “I’m trying to get my slim, sexy going on. But that’s all it is. The older you get, the harder it is to get that weight off of you, the harder it is to move.”
On Monday, the Ravens will take the field together for their first padded practice since the week of their playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans. Derrick Henry ran 30 times for 195 yards in the upset, and the Ravens allowed 217 yards overall on the ground, the most they’ve ever given up in a playoff game. It was the culmination of a year of mediocre run defense on an otherwise strong unit.
Williams is confident in the team’s revamped group — “I just don’t see how offenses can come at us, man,” he said. He’s also ready to move on.
“I feel like games like that, you always learn something from it,” he said. “I mean, you’re never down about it, but you’re always excited that you can play another season and get that taste out of your mouth, for sure. ...
“But I feel like this year, like we’ve said, we’ve got to get back to the fundamentals, get back to making sure we know how to set edges, make sure we know how to play double-team blocks, make sure we know how to do everything we have to do in order to stop the run game like we know we can.”