Guest post by Judd Bleser. You can follow Judd on Twitter @TheInternsTake
Look, I’ll be honest: when it comes to the big uglies up front, I’m biased. I’m partial.
I’ve always lived by the sentiment that winning football starts up front, both offensively and defensively. As the NFL is transforming into more of a glitz and glamour league, many fans and pundits alike lose sight of this, instead focusing on statistics and forgetting about the unsung warriors that help such achievements come to fruition.
Never fear, though; today, I’m going to be that guy. That guy who senselessly rambles about the hogs up front and why you should pay more attention to them, even if they don’t want it.
So, as I sit here, hyped up from my obligatory two cups of coffee, I plead for you to take a deep breath and hear me out: the 2013 Baltimore Ravens defense is going to be BETTER—not worse, not the same—than it was last year.
But Judd, you say, you’re crazy. We lost Ray, Ed, Ellerbe, Pollard, Krug—relax.
Yes, we lost quite a few players this offseason, which I will respond to by asking you this: is that anything new? I’m sorry, but the price that a winning team has to pay is having your players poached by other teams. They will come in and vastly overpay (cough, Kruger, cough) for players, some proven and some relatively unproven.
But what did the Ravens do? They did what they ALWAYS do: find veteran free agents at a great price and/or make great value picks in the draft. This year, they did both, and never is this more evident than in the defensive line.
Let’s take a look at that poor interior defensive line rotation from 2012, one by one. Haloti Ngata: Another solid season. It was evident that he struggled through injury and wasn’t able to do as much because he was seen as the only threat up front and was attacked as such. The man needed help up there, and got little to none. Arthur Jones: After starting the season somewhat hesitant and timid, Jones picked up some slack big time as the season wore on. He seemed to get better and more technically sound with each game, allowing him to make plays at the line of scrimmage. I’m excited for his future. Ma’ake Kemoeatu: Look, give the man credit for one thing: he worked his butt off after a short stint in retirement and whipped himself into shape to make a comeback. On the field, though, he just couldn’t keep up. He shouldn’t have been our starter, but the absolutely pitiful play of Terrence Cody forced him to be first on the depth chart at nose guard. Which brings me to the man, the myth, the legend, Terrence Cody: I’ll be honest, I’ve never seen a player so big and strong be pushed around so easily. Your job as a nose is simple: COMMAND A DOUBLE TEAM. You need to eat up blockers so the linebackers can roam free and make plays. It’s really that simple, but Cody couldn’t even handle a single blocker. I heard he could dunk a basketball. That’s great! But maybe you should think about doing your job.
Those guys were our mainstays on the inside, and with the exceptions of Ngata and Jones, they were the reason why opposing offenses ran wild on us much of the season. Now, let’s take a look at the newcomers on the inside and how they’re going to make our defense better, starting with Chris Canty. What an absolute bargain. While partially known for his crazy facemask, Canty has always been of notice to me because he can wreak some havoc in both the run and the pass. Coming in at 6’7’’ and about 315 pounds, he is a big, scary dude who does not get pushed around easily. He has deceptive quickness for his size, and can knife into the backfield in the blink of an eye.
Another overlooked, yet solid role-player that the Ravens picked up this offseason was Marcus Spears. Yes, he was a former first-round pick, and yes, he didn’t live up to that hype, but guess what? He knows what his job is and he performs it well. He plays selflessly and would fit in perfectly as a rotation defensive tackle in our system. Plug him in there on running downs and watch him go to work, eating up blockers and making the occasional tackle. He’s a great guy to add depth to the defensive line.
The other guy that I’m really excited about is third-round pick Brandon Williams. Basically, the only knock on the kid is that he came from a DII school. Those doubts were put to rest, however, when he was invited to the Senior Bowl and impressed scouts both in practice during the week and in the actual game. As for the combine? Wow. Williams tied for first at the whole combine with 38 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Between that strength and his squatty size (6’1’’, 335), he is what you would call a prototypical nose guard. Think Kelly Gregg, but more athletic. I can’t wait for this kid to blossom. I could see him taking Cody’s spot by week one.
And to answer your question, no, I haven’t forgotten about Elvis Dumervil! My point here is to talk solely about the interior linemen and solidifying our run defense. Dumervil will be a big asset in the pass rush, which, with his addition, is now top notch. I get giddy just thinking about how much better our defense is going to be, and it all starts up front. You want to run on first and second down? Have fun blocking Ngata, Spears, Canty, Williams, and Jones. Now you’re in a third-and-long? Good luck. Who are you going to double? Ngata? Then you’ll have a healthy Terrell Suggs and Dumervil singled up on both ends. Double one of those two? Ngata and Canty can be in the backfield in a split second.
Maybe it’s the coffee. Maybe it’s me frothing at the mouth in July waiting for the season to start. But whatever it is, I just have a feeling. An inkling.
I trust what I know about football, and conventional wisdom tells me that our new additions along the defensive line will allow us to stuff the run much more effectively and put our defense in favorable situations to unleash the two freaks on the outside.
I just have one thing to say to opposing offenses set to face us in 2013: good luck and be ready.