Ravens fans traveling to Westminster will see a linebacker who wears the number 56 flying all over the field making play after play. A third round pick in the 2008 NFL Draft; University of Miami linebacker Tavares Gooden became the first linebacker from the “U” selected by the Ravens since some guy named Ray Lewis. Gooden – whose nickname is “Baby Ray”- brings strong skills to the football field which has many comparing him to Lewis. After being injured for much the season last year, Gooden should be able to live his dream and start alongside his boyhood idol at middle linebacker.
When Gooden was selected in the third round, the Ravens acknowledged they were shocked to see him there and drafted him based on the best player available mantra rather then need. After an injury plagued season in which he recorded only 5 tackles, Gooden is looking to avoid the fate of another high touted defender who slipped to the Ravens a round later then he was supposed, Dan Cody.
The Ravens are looking for someone to replace Bart Scott and truly believe Gooden is the guy who can do this. Athletically, Gooden is second to none, but in just his second year, his football sense is what will determine his level of success. Luckily for Gooden he is playing along side one of the smartest linebackers to ever play the game and it would behoove him to soak up every piece of wisdom Ray Lewis gives him. It is hard to replace everything that Bart Scott brought to this defense but Gooden seems to have all the tools to be as good, if not better, then Scott was.
For years the Ravens defensive success has been marked by players that were unheralded. Players like Adalius Thomas (6th round), Jarrett Johnson (4th round), and Dawan Landry (5th round) were passed over by many teams before being selected by the Ravens. Every year Ozzie Newsome and Company seemed to pick that “diamond in the rough” which not many other teams seem to do as often. While a 3rd round pick is hardly considered to be a “diamond in the rough” Gooden flew under the radar on many team’s draft boards outside of the Ravens, a move those teams are likely to regret. The Ravens hope that Gooden can follow in the success of Thomas, Johnson and Landry and be a staple on this defense for years to come.
While Joe Flacco is looking to avoid the dreaded “sophomore slump” Gooden can only improve on his rookie season. Being thrust into the starting lineup should not intimidate him in the least and he is poised to have a big year.
Don’t discount the fact that Gooden is playing alongside Ray Lewis. Not only will Lewis impart his knowledge on Gooden both on and off the field, he seems to make the players playing next to him that much better on the field. For a 24 year old first year starter, having number 52 next to him is the best thing for him to progress.
Perhaps it is fitting that Gooden’s nickname is “Baby Ray” since many people view him to be Lewis’ replacement when he ends his career in the next couple years. If Gooden has even half the career of his “idol” then the Ravens franchise will be set for the next few years.
Hopefully Tavares Gooden can avoid the fate of Dan Cody and live up to all of his potential. Either way I will enjoy watching him.
By the time his career is over; let’s hope Gooden’s number 56 could be in the Ravens Ring of Honor with our number 52; for now I will just take an injury free season.