Undoubtedly, that leadership will be essential, but teammates won’t follow if they can’t play and the front seven appears to have the potential to be one of the better groups in the history of the franchise, which is no small compliment as the Ravens begin their 18th season in Baltimore.
The pass-rushing duo of Suggs and Dumervil has posted a combined 148 sacks in their respective careers, allowing a secondary that includes returning cornerback Lardarius Webb to daydream about quarterbacks constantly being under duress. Dumervil and Canty — who will likely move inside from his 5-technique defensive end spot to rush the quarterback in many passing situation — have been a breath of fresh air for Pees, who often struggled to find the right personnel to run more complicated stunts and blitzes last season, forcing him to simplify the defensive schemes. The upgrades along the defensive line have also allowed the Ravens to move Ngata inside to the nose tackle position, where he should be able to use his strength and agility to overpower interior offensive linemen.
The versatility is there to offer different looks and personnel along the defensive line and at linebacker, which will only help a retooled secondary that includes three new starters compared to the 2012 season opener. In this pass-happy age of the NFL, a secondary is only as good as the pass rush driving it and the Ravens think they have a strong one in place.
“[With] these guys going at the quarterback, the quarterback better know that they’re coming,” said Webb, who will see his first regular-season action Thursday night since suffering the second ACL injury of his NFL career last October. “He better want to get the ball out sooner or later. It makes our job way easier.”
It all sounds great on paper and the defense certainly showed plenty of flashes in the preseason that it can be a much better unit that last year’s, but the Ravens will face an instant test in quarterback Peyton Manning and the Broncos’ high-powered passing offense. There will be no Lewis in the middle and no Reed playing deep center field, and while the Ravens played without each of those future Hall of Famers from time to time over the years, they never faced the finality of their absence as they do now.
Unlike last year, there’s no light at the end of the tunnel of Lewis potentially returning from injury to provide the inspiration for a Super Bowl run when times get tough. Those inevitable rough patches that every team encounters in the course of a season will be the true test for the leadership-by-committee approach the Ravens have put in place.
Will individuals step up to speak their minds when necessary or wait for someone else to do it? Will the message find the right balance of holding teammates accountable but not throwing others under the bus?
After much talking, thinking, planning, and preparing, life without “The General” officially becomes reality on Thursday night — whether the Ravens choose to acknowledge it publicly or not.
“It doesn’t feel different at all,” said Suggs, who has assumed Lewis’ responsibility of leading the pre-game huddle. “‘Five-Two’ was special. There will never be another man who did it like he did it. Like I said at the start of training camp, we all will be held to that standard, and it really doesn’t matter who the guy in the middle is. Every man on this team will be held to the standard and the legacy that was built by him.”
That legacy begins Thursday night in the first game the Ravens ever play without Lewis being a part of the organization.
Only time will tell if the defense is ready or not.