When Rex Ryan left for New York he decided he needed to raid the cupboard of the Ravens on the Defensive side of the ball. The first player he signed just hours into the free agency period was “the madbacker” Bart Scott. Since being signed as an undrafted free agent out of Southern Illinois Scott has worked his way from a special teams contributor to a Pro Bowl linebacker in 2006. Scott became a fan favorite for his great sound bites such as “pouring hot sauce on Reggie Bush’s ankle” and calling Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward “Soy Sauce” (a touch racist but pretty funny). Scott was also known for his huge hits; I think Ben Roethlisberger is still feeling the impact of the hit Scott laid on him in November of 2006.
With the loss of Scott the Linebacking corps will certainly take a huge hit but the Ravens feel they have the talent on the current roster to attempt to replace him.
John Harbaugh and company should take a serious look at second year linebacker Tavares Gooden. Drafted in the third round last year out of “The U”, the 6-1 235 pound Gooden has all of the tool you look for in an inside linebacker. A former track star Gooden has great lateral speed, and has the ability to go sideline to sideline as well as anyone on the roster. Gooden is also great in pursuit and showed a lot of progression at Miami in pass coverage.
Gooden comes into the NFL with the same criticism teammate Ray Lewis had coming out of college; he is a bit undersized for an inside linebacker. Gooden is not overly strong and can get swallowed up by blockers at times.
In his rookie season Gooden had just five tackles in three games as he learned Baltimore’s complicated defensive scheme. Given more time on the field Gooden could be a viable option to replace Scott this season and perhaps his idol Ray Lewis in the future. It will be interesting to see how Gooden moves into the role of defensive leader as he grows as a player; he certainly has great leaders to follow in Ray Lewis and Ed Reed.
Another option on the Ravens roster is special teams monster Brendon Ayanbadejo. Ayanbadejo was signed by the Ravens last off-season with the promise of seeing more time on the defensive side of the ball. Ayanbadejo did see time on the field during defensive series and had seventeen tackles and a sack in his limited action. But last season Ayanbadejo continued to do what he does best, by making his third consecutive Pro Bowl as a special teams contributor. .
Ayanbadejo is 32 and isn’t getting any younger, but he is going into his seventh year in the league and has a lot of experience. Ayanbadejo plays with a reckless, intense style that fits in with the Ravens perfectly.
I think in the end the younger, more athletic Gooden is the most intriguing of the pair and should get the first shot at seeing some serious playing time in the hole left by the departure of Scott. I think when all is said and done both players will get some run on defense this season and contribute nicely.
Another player to keep an eye on in the future at inside linebacker is Ravens fifth round pick Jason Phillips. The 6-1 239 linebacker out of TCU has a ton of college experience and is drawing favorable comparisons to Zack Thomas. I think Phillips will be a special teams contributor this season and could become a quality addition to the Ravens defense in two or three years.