Ravens 2014 Positional Preview: Linebackers
Linebacker has often been a position of strength in Baltimore and this season appears to be no different. One could make the argument that this may be the most talented unit on the team.
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That’s why some may have questioned why the Ravens selected another linebacker in first rounder C.J. Mosley when the Ravens already grabbed Arthur Brown in the second round in 2013. Still this group appear appears balanced with veteran leadership and young studs to lead this group into the future.
But where will these pieces fall into the depth chart for the upcoming season?
Let’s take a look:
2014 Depth Chart
Inside: Daryl Smith, C.J. Mosely, Arthur Brown, Albert McClellan, Josh Bynes, Austin Spitler, Zach Orr
Outside: Terrell Suggs, Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw, Pernell McPhee, John Simon, D.J. Roberts, Nick DiMarco
Ray Lewis was THE face of the Baltimore Ravens since their inception in 1996.During his time in Baltimore he amassed a Hall of Fame worthy career and capped it off with his second Super Bowl ring. Even though Lewis’ on field production was in decline replacing his position would not be easy. However, Daryl Smith eased the transition with quiet leadership and steady production. The former Jaguar turned in a career best season statistically and even though he showed vulnerability against the run last season the Ravens felt good enough to re-sign him with a 4-year, $16.1 million dollar contract.
Of course the big question is can the 11-year vet repeat what he did in 2013? He’s 32 and should still have a few years left of quality football left in him. He should be able to help mentor the young linebackers in the fold to help secure the Ravens at the position as well.
Rookie C.J. Mosley appears penciled in to pair next to Smith as the other starting linebacker inside. The Alabama product has received nothing but praise in adapting to his new team. His quick instincts on the field and his study off it make him a player the Ravens will count on right away to deliver on his potential. Speaking of, don’t forget Arthur Brown , the second round pick of last year’s draft that saw limited action. He should see time as a Nickel linebacker due to his pass coverage ability and should eventually supplant Smith down the road. Increasing Browns snaps will also most likely push Josh Bynes down the depth chart. Bynes saw plenty of action last season and was steady in his role as run stopper but Brown has more upside and natural ability and will force him to the sidelines.
Terrell Suggs started 2013 with a bang, posting nine sacks over his first eight games but ended with a whimper with only one in the second half of the season. At 32, signs of decline are evident and the Ravens hope that Sizzle can regain his consistency for a full season this time around. Elvis Dumervil was as good as advertised coming in from Denver but also wore down as the season progressed. The key will be keeping both pass rushers active for the full sixteen for Baltimore to make life miserable for opposing quarterbacks.
Courtney Upshaw saw his production dip last season after coming off a strong rookie campaign. He platooned with Dumervil and handled the early downs while giving way to Doom in pass rush situations. Upshaw has struggled getting to the quarterback and his conditioning, the latter must improve if he is to return to form and contribute to the defense.
Another player who took a step backward was Pernell McPhee who battled injuries and a position change and never quite got things going. He showed a propensity to get to the quarterback in his rookie season but has struggled notching sacks since then. This year he has not lacked for confidence and hopes to lead the team in that category in 2014.
Overall, this is a quality unit that has the potential to be great. However they are still not without questions. Can Daryl Smith repeat his 2013 performance? Is Terrell Suggs the leader the Ravens hoped he would be? Is C.J. Mosley ready to play right away? Of course all will be answered on the field but I have some thoughts of my own.
Hopefully Smith won’t need to collect as many tackles (123 combined) as he did a year ago because others such as Mosley, Brown, and Upshaw are making a impact. Smith should be fine this season though and I hope that he could see some rest rotating him out at times to keep him fresh. Suggs was quiet the second half of last year which is never a good sign. The staff must make an effort to manage his snaps as well to keep him solid over the long haul. I see Dumervil having a big season this year with double digit sacks totals. Now fully comfortable in Baltimore and with something to prove he should do well. Mosley will get the nod and by all accounts so far is the real deal. He’ll stumble at some point as all rookies do but I do like the young energy he should provide in the middle of the defense which hopefully leads to more turnovers.
Josh Bynes may need to start getting a bit worried as I don’t see a place for him on this team. Albert McClellan has shown value on special teams as well as John Simon so I think those players are safe but may leave Bynes exposed due to the numbers game.