Long before the Ravens went on their Super Bowl run, coaches and team officials had grown tired of watching opposing ball carriers tear through the middle of the line of scrimmage and pick up yards down the field.
The Ravens defense fell from the NFL’s elite this past season and the primary reason was its struggles against the run, normally one of the strengths of this group. The Ravens allowed 122.8 yards per game on the ground, the highest total in franchise history.
The Ravens had one of the top-10 ranked rush defenses for nine straight seasons before the 2012-13 group ballooned to 20th, the second worst ranking in franchise history.
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That’s why after signing quarterback Joe Flacco to an extension (they succeeded) and trying to re-sign inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (they didn’t succeed), the Ravens top decision makers made upgrading the defensive line as one of the offseason priorities.
In an otherwise disappointing first week of free agency, the Ravens added size and depth to their defensive line by agreeing to deals with defensive tackle Chris Canty (6-foot-7, 317 pounds) and defensive end Marcus Spears (6-4, 315). The two former Dallas Cowboys join a suddenly enormous and crowded interior line group that also includes defensive tackle Haloti Ngata (6-4, 330), nose tackle Terrence Cody (6-4, 349) and defensive ends Arthur Jones (6-3, 313), Pernell McPhee (6-3, 280) and DeAngelo Tyson (6-2, 315).
Exclusive rights free agent Bryan Hall (6-0, 295) and Swanson Miller, a 6-foot-4, 310-pound defensive tackle who the Ravens signed to a reserve/future contract, could also enter the mix and the organization could also address the position in the draft.
Now, the question becomes how John Harbaugh and his coaching staff will use all of them. After the agreements with Canty and Spears, General Manager Ozzie Newsome stressed their versatility and ability to move around along the defensive line. In particular, Canty’s addition spurred talk that he will finally give the Ravens a replacement for defensive end Cory Redding, who signed with the Indianapolis Colts a year ago.
But if he goes out to defense end, where does that leave McPhee, who had a tough season and is coming off groin surgery but he remains a legitimate pass-rushing threat? Obviously using Canty on running downs and McPhee on passing ones is one solution but where do they use Jones, who had a breakout season and was awarded with a second-round tender? Does Jones move to defensive tackle and Ngata get used some at the nose where Cody regressed last season and temporarily lost his job to Ma’ake Kemoeatu?
Spears, who fell out of favor in Dallas, also may be best suited to play the defensive end spot in the Ravens’ 3-4 defense.
I’m sure Harbaugh and his staff will remind us that having so many options is a good problem to have but either way, it’s something that is definitely worth watching as the rest of the offseason unfolds.