Baltimore Ravens

Ravens defensive line has a tradition to uphold

If defensive tackle Carl Davis starts the first game of his rookie season Sunday against the Denver Broncos in place of the injured Timmy Jernigan, he'll have a lot more than just a game's worth of responsibility weighing on him.

Jernigan, who is the man tabbed to replace Haloti Ngata after the Pro Bowl defensive lineman was traded to the Detroit Lions in March, and Davis represent the most recent additions to a defensive line group that throughout the Ravens history has been the franchise's premier strength, due to its depth and continuity among the coaches and players.


"I already knew about the great defensive front, especially the front seven play that the Baltimore Ravens have been about here," Davis said of that reputation. "It's something that's kind of tough, to keep setting the bar high and just to be another guy to play amongst those names."

Those names, from Michael McCrary and Sam Adams to Kelly Gregg and Ngata, all contributed to fabled run-stifling streaks, the current edition of which faces an early challenge in Week 1 against Denver.


From 1998 to 2001, the Ravens went 46 games without a running back gaining 100 yards against them. A similar streak of 39 games stretched from 2006 to 2009.

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has installed strong running games at every stop in his NFL career, including last year as offensive coordinator in Baltimore, and will have an opportunity in his first game with the Broncos to smash a Ravens defensive streak of 26 straight regular-season games without allowing a 100-yard rusher.

His team won't have to run around the stout Ngata, a big part of the last two streaks, to do so.

There's not much concern about replacing Ngata within the Ravens facility, though, which is a testament to the team's ability to identify value early in the draft and coax value of out late-round picks and waiver claims, as well as the consistent stewardship of defensive line coach Clarence Brooks.

"We've always been a rotation team here," Brooks said during training camp. "Even when we had Haloti, we've always been there; we've always rolled guys. … With Haloti not being here, I think the same. It just holds. He missed the last four games of last year, and we happened to be able to just keep going on. That's the way we're looking at it."

Brooks credits general manager Ozzie Newsome and his talent evaluators with acquiring "guys that are what we think are Raven-type guys." They've shown a serious commitment to that in the draft, especially early. The Ravens have selected a defensive tackle — Brandon Williams, a third-round pick in 2013, Jernigan, a second-round pick in 2014, and Davis, a third-round pick in 2015 — during the first two days of the draft the past three years.

Depth picks like Kapron Lewis-Moore and DeAngelo Tyson have also been contributors, and departed free agents Pernell McPhee — who was drafted as a defensive end and eventually switched to linebacker — and Arthur Jones both proved valuable. Lawrence Guy was waived by the defensively challenged Indianapolis Colts and San Diego Chargers last year, and became a contributor for the Ravens almost immediately.

The only pockmark among the group is 2010 second-round pick Terrence Cody, a bit-part player before his release in January.


Russ Lande, a scout with the Montreal Alouettes of the Canadian Football League, said the Ravens so often hit at that position because of the consistency at the highest levels of the organization.

"Everyone's on the same page," Lande said. "That's the key to finding any players, but defensive linemen especially, because there's so many different types that fit different systems. Finding and identifying the correct ones to your team is vital."

Lande believes they've done that with Davis just as they did with Williams and Jernigan before them.

He said: "Their scouts and their coaches are able to identify them when they watch the film so they can say, 'We may feel this is the No. 2-[rated] base defensive end for our defense, and he would have a first-round value, but we know he's not going to go until the second or third round because not a lot of teams place that much of a priority on some of the characteristics we look for.'

"Davis doesn't fit what a lot of teams are looking for," Lande said, but if you add his strength, experience, and athleticism together, "it makes him a guy who's valuable for what the Ravens do, but he may not hold the same value for a lot of other teams."

Those players who have fit in and made an impact, both past and present, credit Brooks with making them live up to the decades-long standard. He isn't above using the past successes as motivation, either.


"C.B. talks about it all the time," Lewis-Moore said. "The bar is high. You can't play below the bar. We've got to raise our play above the bar."

"It's not like we've had a revolving door on the defensive line coaching staff … but it's also just the guys that came before us," longtime standout Kelly Gregg said. "Rob Burnett, Michael McCrary — the way they played. Then, it was sort of a trickle-down effect. Haloti played with us. I played with Sam [Adams]. And then these new guys, obviously, played with Haloti."

The standard-bearer now is Brandon Williams, who spent two years learning from and alongside Ngata. He has now taken a mentorship role with Davis.

Williams says he'll bring a younger player aside and warn him about Brooks' pet peeves. But the defensive linemen all understand the tough love and the effort it yields has been successful before, and likely will be again.

"I don't think [anybody] works like we do," Jernigan said. "We outwork everybody. We've got a coach who, if he sees something wrong with what you're doing, he's going to say something, whether it's [Brooks] or Coach Harbaugh. They expect things to be perfect around here. It really doesn't matter who comes into the program, I feel like you have to withstand it."

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Notes: The Ravens announced Monday that they filled their 10-man practice squad by signing wide receiver Jeremy Ross, tight end Dominique Jones and wide receiver Daniel Brown.


Ross, 27, spent the past two seasons with the Detroit Lions. He was their primary returner last year, averaging 8.9 yards on 32 punt returns and 25.4 yards on 23 kickoff returns.

Jones, 28, has played parts of three seasons with the Indianapolis Colts, Kansas City Chiefs and Broncos. In 13 career games, he has three catches for 42 yards.

A source confirmed that former Houston Texans cornerback Charles James, one of the stars of the HBO show "Hard Knocks," also will join the Ravens practice squad. It's unclear at the moment how the Ravens will make room for him.

Baltimore Sun reporter Jeff Zrebiec contributed to this article.