This was a group that was hard hit by injuries in 2012. Can they stay healthy and improve even after the departure of an all-time great?
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Let’s take a look:
2013 Depth Chart:
CB – Lardarius Webb, Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, Chykie Brown, Asa Jackson, Chris Johnson, Marc Anthony, Mo Lee
SS- Matt Elam, James Ihedigbo
FS- Michael Huff, Christian Thompson, Omar Brown, Anthony Levine
The loss of Ed Reed is a big one and not just for what he did between the lines. Sure his tackling wasn’t always true, and he often frustrated fans with his penchant for laterals but he had a presence that opposing teams always had to account for. The legend of Ed Reed much like Lewis had grown to immense levels even though the numbers may not support such respect at this stage of their careers. Losing thumper Bernard Pollard was a bit more unexpected as the team chose to let the outspoken vet go to save money and to find other options on the back end.
Replacing Reed is former first round pick Michael Huff who doesn’t bring the same ballhawking threat but will be steadier and more reliable to stay true to his defensive responsibilities. On the other side the Ravens expect first rounder Matt Elam to step into Pollard’s role as a heavy hitter and possibly providing an intimidating aura that receivers should be wary of. Elam may work into the role and in the meantime vet James Ihedigbo (a.k.a. Grave Digger- Got to love that tackle dance) will get snaps with the first team. Ihedigbo was also a valuable commodity on Special Teams as well.
Christian Thompson had a rough rookie season that saw little playing time and ended with a trip to the Injured Reserve. He was then suspended for the first four games of the season for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Pre-season favorite from a year ago Omar Brown could possibly battle for the last spot on the roster which means that he’ll need to translate his ability around the ball to Special Teams. Anthony Levine will most likely battle alongside Brown for that position and was active two games last season for Baltimore.
Even though former starter Cary Williams has moved on to Philadelphia the Ravens should have plenty of options to hopefully replace him. First let’s hope that Lardarius Webb is fully recovered from his second ACL injury in his brief career. So far all indications are that a Week One return for Webb in Denver may not be out of the question just yet. So if Baltimore gets their shutdown corner back that leaves the battle for Williams’ old job between Corey Graham and Jimmy Smith. Graham was signed mainly as a Special teamer from Chicago last season but showed especially in the playoffs that he’s more than that. Smith, the former first rounder has battled injuries but appears physically and mentally ready this season to achieve his vast potential.
Chykie Brown was another player that when given a chance showed that he could make plays. He’s very athletic and should press those in front of him for snaps. Veteran Chris Johnson was brought back after a short stint in Baltimore last season. Asa Jackson could find his way onto the field as a returner even though he did not get any chances last season. Marc Anthony the Ravens seventh-round selection from Cal also has Special teams experience which for now is his ticket to stick on this roster.
Predictions: There are plenty of new faces in the secondary this season, they key to getting these players to gel is Webb. He’s shown leadership ability in the past and if he’s ready to go by Week One I’d expect him to take ownership of this group. Both Smith and Graham will get plenty of snaps and most are hoping that this is the breakout season for the Colorado star. I’m not quite sold yet which makes depth here crucial. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Smith down with an injury and a player like Chykie Brown making bigger strides instead.
Huff should be unspectacular but solid patrolling the back while I think Elam will be a typical rookie. His ability won’t keep him off the field for long but I have him down for at least two illegal hits in 2013. He’ll make his mistakes but that’s ok he’ll learn.