Ravens defensive line is revamped for a new season
By By Aaron Wilson
The Baltimore Sun|
Jul 31, 2013 | 10:57 PM
Standing adjacent to the line of scrimmage, Ravens defensive line coach Clarence Brooks' vantage point gives him a unique perspective to watch a revamped group.
Brooks is enjoying himself, frequently cracking a smile after plays to celebrate another encounter won.
Since the Ravens launched training camp last week, a deep, versatile defensive line has dominated blockers in what could be a sneak preview of the season. It's early, but depth upfront appears transformed into a hallmark instead of a question mark.
"I like this group," Brooks said. "Time will tell how good we get. They are playing their tails off. Yes, I do feel good about this group and I'm happy. I look forward to watching them get better as we go. There's a lot of belief amongst these guys. They want to be very good."
Newcomer Chris Canty has regularly batted down passes and shot through gaps to disrupt the backfield.
At 6-foot-7, 317 pounds, the former New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys starter resembles a bulky power forward. The Ravens haven't had a defensive lineman this imposing since Trevor Pryce was on the roster.
It's been extremely difficult for the offensive line to contain Canty, who mostly lines up on the right side alongside Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata.
"It's pretty cool because you just kind of play off of him because he's so long," Ngata said. "It's fun to watch him because he just stands up and blocks balls. I have to jump up to block balls. He's a great athlete."
The Ravens plummeted to 20th against the run last season, allowing 1,965 rushing yards for the most surrendered in franchise history. Although they won the Super Bowl in February, the Ravens' defense hadn't finished out of the top 10 in rushing defense since ranking 13th in 2002.
Besides signing Pro Bowl outside linebacker Elvis Dumervil to a $35 million contract, general manager Ozzie Newsome invested a three-year, $8 million contract in Canty. He also signed former Dallas Cowboys first-round defensive end Marcus Spears to a two-year, $3.55 million deal.
"I really like what the Ravens did to build up the defensive line," said NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah, a former NFL scout. "They brought in some studs."
Jeremiah isn't alone in that opinion.
Spears played alongside Pro Bowl defenders DeMarcus Ware and Jay Ratliff in Dallas and considers this as a potentially equal or superior group.
"This is right up there with the top guys I played with in Dallas, and those guys are darn good football players," said Spears, the top substitute at end and tackle. "There's a lot of talent. If we can get cohesive, we'll be fine. I think we can be real good."
Canty is regarded as a rare player because of his size and ability to be interchangeable at defensive tackle and defensive end. He has recorded 299 career tackles and 19 sacks.
"I see myself as a jack of all trades, just being able to fit in wherever needed," Canty said.. "I have a unique skill set. I've played inside, I've played outside. I'm very familiar with multiple front systems.
"I like to move around a lot. It gives offensive linemen a little bit of trouble in different looks when you're lining up in different places. That's going to be exciting."
The Ravens feature bookend pass rushers in Dumervil and former NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs. Dumervil and Suggs, healthy and fit again after a torn Achilles tendon and torn biceps limited him last season, are flanked by big bodies inside. That could free them up to chase down quarterbacks.
"Awesome, we can be really, really good this year," Ngata said. "So much depth, and our younger guys are so good. We can do a lot of things with pass rushing. It's going to be real tough, I think, to block us."
Ngata is noticeably slimmer and more mobile now after being hampered in the spring due to a sprained knee from the Super Bowl. He's shoving people around, often shifting over from his regular tackle spot to play nose tackle.
"I don't mind moving around, but I'm more comfortable inside," Ngata said. "And I think that will happen. I will move around inside, but won't go outside as much. That's going to be real fun."
The Ravens dipped to 37 sacks last year from 48 sacks in 2011 as Suggs had a career-low two sacks.
Defensive coordinator Dean Pees should have more freedom with his schemes to blitz when necessary or create pressure out of his base defense.
"We have guys that can get to the quarterback in different ways," Canty said. "We have guys that can do it with speed. We have guys that can do it with power. We have guys that can do it with both."
Following a disappointing season and undergoing offseason hip surgery, nose tackle Terrence Cody is being pushed hard by bulky rookie nose tackle Brandon Williams. Williams is a 6-1, 335-pound sleeper third-round draft pick from Missouri Southern who hasn't been intimidated by older players.
"I like everything about him," Brooks said. "He can play with power. He can play with a little bit of movement inside. He's a pretty good athlete. He's a thinking player, he understands what we expect of him."
The key questions for the defensive line are adjusting to so much change, developing chemistry and figuring out the best rotation combinations.
"It's been an easy transition," Ngata said. "Got a lot of new faces with good athletes. It's been pretty easy so far."
Jones dropped nearly 20 pounds over the summer following a breakthrough season last year with 47 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He's entering a contract year.
"Arthur has come in this year in better shape, but his confidence is amazing," Ngata said. "He's believing in his athletic ability. It's great to have a player that isn't second-guessing himself and is just going out there and making plays."
When Canty was in New York, he was part of a talent-rich line that included defensive ends Justin Tuck and Osi Umenyiora. He isn't placing any ceiling on the Ravens' potential.
"It's as good as any defensive line I've ever been a part of, it has the potential to be," Canty said. "It's becoming clear. We have a good group of guys. We have a lot of weapons.
"It's just a matter of us understanding how we can accomplish our given tasks in given situations. If we put it all together, it can be something that's really special. It definitely has the potential to be that kind of dominant front."