2. Terrell Suggs (injury) out indefinitely and Jarret Johnson out, Courtney Upshaw/Paul Kruger in
This will be the key position for the Ravens this year, the OLB/DE hybrid spot. No one can deny what Terrell Suggs did so year taking quarterbacks to Ball So Hard University and giving them an education lesson. However, he could have been more productive if he wasn’t constantly double-teamed from the lack of pass rush everywhere else. Most of his production came against the Steelers, Colts, and 49ers (9.0 of 14.0 total sacks in these four games). With his recent injury, he may not see action until late November, December or not at all, depending on his recovery and the playoff push the team is making. This year will be career defining for Paul Kruger as he has served as mostly as a role player coming in on third downs as a rush end. Last year, he tallied just 15 tackles, but 5.5 were sacks. How will Kruger handle the pressure? Will he respond and fill the void? I’m not asking him to be Terrell Suggs because he’s not. If he can improve on his run stopping ability, which Suggs isn’t exactly an expert at either, he may have a place in this defense other than coming on solely on third downs.
People are worried about losing Suggs and forget that Jarret Johnson has moved on to the San Diego Chargers. We’ve seen this before. The Ravens lose a linebacker, he goes elsewhere and does average and we soon replace him, i.e. Adalius Thomas. I liked Johnson because he was stout against the run and was an “Iron Man” for the squad as he made 130 straight starts, a franchise record formerly held by Peter Boulware at 111. However, he offered almost nothing in the passing game in terms of coverage or pass rush, so Kruger and Upshaw should be able to fill the void.
To further boost the pass rush, the Ravens selected Courtney Upshaw DE/OLB from Alabama with the 35th pick overall. Little did they know, he may have an even larger role as a rookie than expected. I was pleased with the pickup of Upshaw. I felt that he would make a far better pro than his teammate Dont’a Hightower because of his versatility. Upshaw has glimmers of being Suggs with the way he gets after the passer and also his tremendous frame (6’2”, 272). The question remains, where does he fit in this defense? Will his hand be in the dirt? Is he going to start? Will he be used in coverage for some schemes? It is always hard to tell with a rookie, especially with a physical specimen like Upshaw. Seeing him and Kruger on the outside would be awesome as I think they could surprise people in how dominant they can become. Once Suggs comes back, if they both have produced and seen significant playing time, this defense may not only have a solid secondary, assuming Ed Reed signs, but a pass rush to compliment.
3. Cory Redding out, Pernell McPhee in.
The former fifth-round pick had a surprising rookie year last year tallying 6.5 sacks as a pass-rushing specialist. However, his role will increase significantly this year with the loss of Cory Redding to the Colts. I have full confidence McPhee will be a stud in this league. The 6’3”, 280 lb end appears to be on the cusp of something huge as his role began to increase as the season progressed and he earned more than just third-down snaps. It will be interesting to see during camp how he’s improved physically, mentally and also adjusting to more reps coming his way. If he can be half the player Redding was on and off the field, we shouldn’t have anything to worry about with Pernell McPhee.