On paper, the Ravens’ defense looks destined for failure. Ray Lewis has retired, Ed Reed is playing in Houston, Terrell Suggs had a questionable return after an Achilles tendon tear, Haloti Ngata suffered a knee sprain in the Super Bowl, and Lardarius Webb is still recovering from an ACL tear in October. But will the Ravens find a way to rehabilitate their defense after how much they are hurting?
The answer is yes. General Manager Ozzie Newsome and Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees have worked closely together to pull out all of the stops to ensure the high-caliber defense that the Baltimore Ravens have been able to produce year after year.
The first step to rebuilding the defense is replacing veteran linebacker Ray Lewis. Rookie Arthur Brown was a second round draft pick out of Kansas State and is expected to play the position that Ray Lewis occupied on the Ravens’ roster for 17 seasons. But Brown does not see his job as “replacing” Lewis.
“The way I look at it is, there’s no replacing Ray Lewis,” Brown said. “He’s still a part of this team. He’s had a major impact on so many of the guys this year. So really, I’m just an addition, looking to fulfill my role and be an impact player.”
Although Brown may not be replacing Lewis and everything he brought to the team, he is looking to step up and fill the position that was empty when number 52 was taken off of the Ravens’ roster.
Bringing in another safety to fill Ed Reed’s position was the next step in rebuilding the defense. Michael Huff, who spent his first six NFL seasons in Oakland, has been selected to fill the void. Huff’s progressive outlook on his new team and new opportunity has him on the fast track to success in Baltimore.
“I’m going to have big shoes to fill, obviously with Ed, one of the greatest, if not the greatest free safety to ever play the game,” Huff said at minicamp. “But obviously, I know that we’re our own players. We’ll go out there and play our game. Not live in the past. Start our own legacy.”
Huff’s optimism and will to win has him following in Ed Reed’s footsteps on the path to success.
With the vacant positions on defense filled, the only thing left to do is rehab the injured. Terrell Suggs suffered an Achilles tendon tear last offseason and missed the first six games of the regular season. But Suggs was taken off of the Physically Unable to Preform list for the Week 7 game against the Houston Texans and returned to the field after only five months of recovery time. Many believed that such a quick return would be detrimental to Suggs health. However, Suggs played every game from that point on, including the Super Bowl.
Fast forwarding to June, Suggs took the field with his fellow teammates for minicamp. But one thing was different with Suggs: he looked to be in the best shape he has ever been since entering the NFL in 2003. Any worries of Suggs re-injuring himself during the 2012 season up until this point have seemed to go out the window. Suggs is stepping up on defense more than ever and is physically ready to take the field for the 2013 season.
One of the biggest questions this offseason is where Haloti Ngata stands. After suffering from a sprained knee in Super Bowl XLVII, Ngata has opted to take a natural rehabilitation approach instead of surgery. But many question whether or not Ngata will be at Pro Bowl caliber at the start of the upcoming season. The Ravens are looking to Ngata and Suggs to be the main components of the defense. Ngata was limited to only jogging recently, which sends up a red flag, causing many wonder about the severity of Ngata’s injury.
The fifth and final component to the rebuilding on defense is the return of Lardarius Webb. After suffering his second ACL tear in just three years on October 14, 2012, cornerback Lardarius Webb is ready to make his return in a Ravens uniform. At the beginning of last season, Webb was putting up Pro Bowl worthy numbers. All that is on Webb’s mind is returning now to the game and helping his team reach another Super Bowl victory. Webb has been limited in offseason practices, but is fully expected to be starting at cornerback in the Week 1 game against the Denver Broncos.
The technicalities on defense have been figured out. Now it is up to the players to perform to their highest ability. Despite injury and the loss of key players, the Ravens defense has what it takes to reclaim their title as one of the most feared defenses in the National Football League.