At the heart of any 3-4 defense are the linebackers, especially the inside linebackers. Think of the best 3-4 defenses in recent years. They featured guys like Ray Lewis for the Baltimore Ravens, James Farrior for the Steelers, Tedy Bruschi for the Patriots. They were the heart and soul of their defense.
Yet, there are just two starting inside linebackers, and in sub packages, there may just be one. With that in mind, the Ravens clearly got their priorities wrong when keeping SIX inside linebackers. That’s six inside linebackers for just two starting spots. Keep in mind the Ravens kept five defensive linemen for three starting spots.
To be fair, five of the guys the Ravens kept have already proven to be quality NFL linebackers. Realistically, they are five of the 53 best players the Ravens had throughout training camp.
Excluded in that group of five is rookie Zach Orr, who was retained solely for his special teams production. Of course, Albert McClellan, Josh Bynes and Arthur Brown will also play a major role on special teams, so Orr’s contributions seem moot. That’s not to mention the three special teams aces at safety.
In fact, that safety position also features six players, while the wide receiver position is seven guys deep. Both of those positions are overloaded as well, but neither is as problematic as the inside linebacker position.
At safety, the Ravens have two guys that will be playing some cornerback in Terrence Brooks and Anthony Levine. They bring valuable flexibility that justifies their roster spots. Brynden Trawick, meanwhile, has flashed major upside defensively while also excelling on special teams. Jer0my Miles is the only safety to exclusively be a one-dimensional special teamer.
Further, there will be packages that feature more than two safeties. There will not be packages that feature more than two inside linebackers.
At receiver, meanwhile, the Ravens are probably overloaded, but all of those guys can play a role this season. Deonte Thompson is a speed guy who could be useful as a change of pace, while Michael Campanaro and Kamar Aiken have upside. No problem keeping guys around to bet on their upside.
But the Ravens know what they have in Bynes and McClellan: average NFL linebackers and good special teams players. As for Orr, he didn’t show much upside anywhere but on special teams. Surely, the Ravens could have let one of these guys go to add space for another defensive lineman or cornerback.
To be fair, the Ravens roster is still in a state of flux. There are hundreds of new free agents to look at, and teams are wheeling and dealing in the trade market as well.
Which brings me to an intriguing possibility. Trade is a buzzword right now in Ravens’ circles, as the team has a glut of receivers. But with Nate Burleson, Stephen Hill and Vincent Brown getting cut from their respective teams, the trade market for receivers is probably pretty weak. Teams would be wiser to go after one of the receivers that just got cut.
However, there were not many, if any, big name inside linebackers cut. A team in need would be wise to call the Ravens to inquire about Bynes or McClellan, two established linebackers who could start in a pinch.
And if the Ravens manage to pull off such a trade, I will applaud the move. As the roster stands now, though, the Ravens have placed an unnecessary emphasis on the inside linebacker position at the expense of more important and depth-starved positions.
Tags: Baltimore Ravens