Written by BSR Contributor: Cody Colston
Football is in the air! Last week the Ravens trounced the Buccaneers 44 to 16 in a meaningless preseason game that no one but sports junkies and analysts care about, and we only have to watch it for 3 more weeks! In all seriousness though, last week I talked about some things to watch on the offense through the preseason and this week I’m going to talk about watch to watch on the other side of the ball: defense.
Lardarius Webb is coming back, so he has the first cornerback spot locked down. That leaves Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, Chris Johnson, and Chykie Brown to fight over the second spot. Graham, signed last offseason to help on special teams, played dividends during the post season, picking off Peyton Manning twice and returning one for atTouchdown. Johnson, who was signed after injuries to Webb and Smith, is looking to expand his role on the defense. Brown, the 7th round pick in 2011, is also looking to expand his role and has impressed the coaching staff. Graham has won the coaches over and right now it’s his job to lose, but the Ravens are pushing Jimmy Smith to up his game to take the job. A solid corner opposite of Webb will be important without a definite second safety behind them. This also is the “do-or-die” year for Jimmy Smith.
Michael Huff was signed during the offseason, so he is all but guaranteed a starting job. The other safety spot, however, is up for grabs. Matt Elam, the Ravens’ first round draft pick this year, is who many are expecting to win the job. Elam, 21, collected 6 interceptions, 13 pass deflections, and 3 forced fumbles in his 3 years at Florida. The other three competing are James Ihedigbo, Omar Brown, and Christian Thompson. Ihedigbo, 29, was listed as the starting strong safety next to Huff; Ihedigbo is compared to Bernard Pollard, minus the hard hitting. Brown, 25, impressed the coaches during preseason as an undrafted free agent, 3 fumble recoveries and an interception, and is looking to make a yearlong contribution to the team. Thompson, 23, was a fourth round draft pick in 2012 and is trying to fight for a roster spot. Vice-versa, two solid Safeties are needed without a definite starter at the second Cornerback position. The loss of Ed Reed also puts a lot of attention on the position and it’ll be noteworthy to see how they will handle it.
The retirement of Ray Lewis, Darnell Ellerbe taking his talents to south beach, and Jameel McClain’s slow recovery form a spinal cord injury leaves two vacant holes in the middle of the defense. That leaves veteran Daryl Smith, 2nd round pick Arthur Brown, and rising favorite Josh Bynes. Smith was with the Jacksonville Jaguars since 2004 before being derailed last season and was picked up at low-risk during the offseason and has already impresses the coaching staff, being listed as the starting Mike linebacker. Brown, 23, transferred from Miami to Kansas State to get playing time and recorded two seasons of 100 tackles and had 3 sacks and 3 interceptions in his two years with Kansas State. Bynes, 23, undrafted in 2011, Bynes bounced around from the Ravens and the practice squad, finally has a shot to compete for a starting position and he’s making use of it. Bynes is remembered for making the final tackle during the Super Bowl. In my opinion, this competition will be the one to keep an eye on, on the defensive side of the ball. The “replacement” for Ray Lewis will be what comes under the most scrutiny in most media outlets. The Ravens have also put a priority in revamping the middle of the defense, so it’ll be interesting in who’s picked to help stop the run.
Follow Cody on Twitter @The_OtherCody.