I posted earlier about Pernell McPhee and his stellar rookie campaign thus far, and I briefly touched on the Ravens’ “youth movement” on defense that seems to be coming to fruition this season. While it was just a passing thought at the time, the notion has really grown on me that the team has brought in several young pieces to lessen the inevitable eventual departures of Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.

McPhee has been but one of the young guns for the defense this season. Paul Kruger has finally begun to fulfill some of his potential as a second-round pick, Lardarius Webb has had an excellent year at the cornerback position (with a punt return TD on Sunday to boot), and Jimmy Smith is performing valiantly in the defensive backfield. Smith’s performance has even been that much more impressive considering he was out with a high ankle sprain from weeks one to six. While the receivers he was going up against were in mid-season form, Smith was still playing very well in spite of his still-recovering ankle.

Jimmy Smith has had an injury-hampered yet impressive rookie campaign, providing good coverage and two interceptions.

Along with those three, Jameel McClain and Cary Williams are second and third on the team in tackles, and both are only 26 years old. Tom Zbikowski and Dannell Ellerbee are also 26, Arthur Jones is 25, and Terrence Cody is 23. Even Haloti Ngata, who is a perennial All-Pro caliber player, has several quality years left in him (Ngata is turning 28 in January). And maybe, just maybe, Sergio Kindle will come around in a season or two.

I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that by the 2013-14 season, Ray Lewis and Ed Reed will be gone. Let’s also figure that Jarrett Johnson is gone. While the organization will have the chance to draft a few more quality players in those two years, here is  :

  • DE: Pernell McPhee
  • NT: Haloti Ngata
  • DE/DT: Arthur Jones/Terrence Cody/Drafted Player
  • OLB: Terrell Suggs
  • ILB: Jameel McClain
  • ILB: Dannell Ellerbee/Drafted Player
  • OLB: Paul Kruger/Sergio Kindle/Drafted Player
  • CB: Lardarius Webb/Cary Williams
  • CB: Jimmy Smith
  • FS: Haruki Nakamura/Bernard Pollard/Drafted Player
  • SS: Tom Zbikowski
As you can see, it’s the “Next Man Up” philosophy exemplified. While the absence of the names “Reed” and “Lewis” make the defense seem much more tame, think objectively for a second. The defense has excelled in the past while Ed Reed was inactive with injury, and they’ve been extremely impressive the last two weeks without Ray Lewis in the lineup against the 49ers and Bears. It’s even arguable that they played well against Cincinnatti in his absence, also.
While I’m confident in the current group of youngsters on defense, I think it’s necessary to draft an eventual replacement to Cory Redding at the defensive end position. Redding does a lot for the defense, and many do not fully appreciate his contributions and overall effectiveness. Additionally, I don’t have much faith in either Nakamura or Pollard at the safety position.
Besides those minor blemishes, it appears that the Ravens already have found the core of what figures to be a continually dominant defense for years to come. Who knows, maybe in eight to ten years we will be dreading the eventual retirement of Jameel McClain, Lardarius Webb, and Jimmy Smith the same way we are right now with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Terrell Suggs.
Let’s sure hope so.
Edgar Walker is a staff writer for Baltimore Sports Report, focusing on the Ravens and high school sports. Follow him on Twitter, where he regularly releases the winning numbers to the Mega Millions.