The 2018 NFL season is still a few months away and organized team activities are slated to start next month. The second installment of Camp Battles to Watch is here! This week we’re going to be focusing on the defensive side of the ball.
Today we examine a unit which pitched three shutouts in 2017, returns the entire starting squad, brings back several players from the injured reserve as well as adds some needed depth to oft-injured positions.
Current Roster: Brandon Williams, Willie Henry, Zach Sieler (R), Christian LaCouture (R), Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley
The Ravens run defense struggled when Brandon Williams was off the field in 2017. Keeping him on the field will be key to the entire unit’s success. The defensive line is fairly well set. Newcomer, Zach Sieler, should make the roster and compete for a backup position. One wildcard in this unit is Christian LaCouture. An undrafted free agent who played his college ball at LSU. LaCouture is a bubble player based on the current depth and skill at this position. He will have to impress in camp if he want to make the final roster.
Current Roster: Brent Urban, Carl Davis, Bronson Kaufusi, Myles Humphrey (R), Da’Sean Downey (R)
Another deep position that struggled when starter, Brent Urban, was sidelined with a season ending injury early in the year. Carl Davis played decently well, but will need to continue to improve if he is to retain his backup spot. He will be pressured by off-season additions, Myles Humphrey and Da’Sean Downey. Both players have great potential and will need to flash in training camp in order to keep a spot on this roster. Bronson Kaufusi will need to finally take the next step in his development if he is going to make the final roster. We have a lot of talent on our defense, and we cant keep it all.
Outside / RUSH Linebacker
Current Roster: Terrell Suggs, Za’Darius Smith, Tim Williams, Albert McClellan, Matt Judon, Tyus Bowser
It would be a shame to lose anyone in this unit, but it’s hard to argue that we should keep players like Albert McClellan, when Matt Judon had a much welcomed coming out party in 2017, and talented rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams hardly saw the field down the stretch. Our outside and rush linebackers need to solidify their persona and an heir-apparent for the ageless Terell Suggs, who could retire any season. Luckily, the stable is well stocked. I am confident in our coaching staff’s ability to bring this cadre of talented pass rushers into the new era with only a slight lapse in effectiveness.
That said, Suggs can’t do it alone this year. We need to see a few of these studs make the next leap in their pass-rush evolution.
Current Roster: CJ Mosley, Kenny Young (R), Alvin Jones (R), Patrick Onwuasor, Kamalei Correa, Bam Bradley
In 2017 it looked as if Bam Bradley was going to get to compete with Patrick Onwusaor for reps alongside CJ Mosley, until an injury ended his promising rookie campaign. I am looking forward to seeing what kind of progress he has made in the off-season and if he will compete with Onwusaor. That scenario could just as easily be thrown out the window if Kenny Young brings the coverage skill he showcased at UCLA to the NFL level and speed.
Baltimore suffered from shaky ILB coverage in 2017. I think this was partly due to the need for our ILBs to play the run faster due to a weakened DL without Brandon Williams. Conjecture for now, but a solid interior DL makes ILB coverage a lot easier.
Current Roster: Jimmy Smith, Maurice Canaday, Jaylen Hill, Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nelson Robert, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey, Tavon Young, Anthony Averett, Darious Williams
Perhaps the deepest position on the defense, this oft-injured unit has benefited from 2017 first round pick, Marlon Humphrey’s immediate-play ability after losing Jimmy Smith, again, late in the season. If this squad can stay healthy, the Ravens boast one of the deepest and most talented corner squads in the league.
That’s a big, “if.” This might be the last off-season for Stanley Jean-Baptiste, Nelson Robert and 2017 UDFA standout, Jaylen Hill. If Tavon Young returns from injury at the level he’s claiming and Anthony Averette is anywhere near as advertised, it will be almost impossible to keep such a talented squad.
Strong / Free Safety
Current Roster: Eric Weddle, Tony Jefferson, Anthony Levine, Chuck Clark, DeShon Elliott, Kai Nacua
Another position that was deepened this offseason, the safety unit has a good mix of veteran and youthful talent. My biggest concern is the durability of Weddle, who has been playing at a very high level still, and the scheme fit of Jefferson.
Don “Wink” Martindale will have the opportunity to drastically change our defensive scheme to fit both Weddle and Jefferson’s strengths without having to recreate the wheel. The Ravens have stockpiled several box-safeties and I am interested to see what they plan to do with them. DeShone has struggled in the past with coverage while at Texas and transitioning to the NFL level will ask him to do more of it. Jefferson had similar concerns out of Oklahoma, but improved his coverage ability and became an excellent and rounded defender.
The 2018 defense should take another step forward and cement itself as one of the best units in the league, again. Perhaps the single most important condition to the unit’s success will be if the offense can control the clock. When the Ravens offense was firing and controlling the ball, the defense got the stops and turnovers it needed. Down the stretch in 2017, just as in 2016, our defense started playing more and more. Despite a late game offensive revitalization, our defense was banged-up and exhausted by the Cincinnati game.
In 2018, I truly believe that the Ravens can get back to the playoffs. I really hope it comes on a last second defensive stop. This talented, deep, and tight-knit unit should shock the league with their progression and reestablish Baltimore as the defensive benchmark for the NFL.