While discussion has centered around replacing the injured Terrell Suggs’ pass-rush ability and emotional leadership, that doesn’t tell the whole story of the challenges lying ahead for the Ravens defense.
The addition of veteran Jason Babin should help the pass rush, but the 35-year-old isn’t known for being stout against the run, though he played well in that capacity for the New York Jets last season. Head coach John Harbaugh has already confirmed that Elvis Dumervil will assume duties as the rush linebacker on first and second down, meaning the 31-year-old will have a much larger role than he did in his first two seasons in Baltimore. With Suggs and the run-stopping Courtney Upshaw playing the outside linebacker spots in the base defense, Dumervil rarely saw action on early downs against most teams.
Dumervil may not be a major liability against the run, but he will be replacing a player who’s been one of the NFL’s best at setting the edge for over a decade. Even with his advancing age, Suggs graded as Baltimore’s second-best player against the run last season and was first in 2013, according to Pro Football Focus.
His pass-rushing counterpart the last two years will now see his most extensive action since his days with the Denver Broncos when he was primarily a three-down player.
“I’m not going to toot my own horn, but I’ve played in the league — I’ve started on first and second down,” Dumervil said. ” I have experiences; [it is not] like something new for me. But I am excited for the opportunity, especially in this defense. I think that’s a really good position to play, and I get to rush more. That’s kind of what I love to do.”
It’s that ability to wreak havoc on the quarterback that may be compromised with the need for Dumervil to play more extensively. One of the biggest reasons for the success of the pass rush over the last couple years was defensive coordinator Dean Pees’ ability to rotate Suggs, Dumervil, Upshaw, and former Raven Pernell McPhee to keep them all fresh and to mask their weaknesses.
Once the Ravens have a better idea of how much Babin and rookie Za’Darius Smith can offer as part of the rotation, managing reps should become easier with the hope of keeping Dumervil — and everyone else — fresh for the duration of the season. Baltimore can’t afford to have Dumervil’s pass-rushing ability diminish, but replacing Suggs against the run is easier said than done.
“I think you take that all into consideration. It will all be part of the consideration,” Harbaugh said. “He is definitely capable of playing on first and second down, and he’ll be out there on first and second down. But there will be some kind of a rotation like we always do, and it’ll be geared toward the guys we have.”
Babin baffled by Jets release
Meeting with media in San Jose following his first practice with his new team, Babin said he couldn’t have asked for a better situation than joining the Ravens.
But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t miffed by the Jets’ decision to release him at the end of the preseason. Babin was set to make $1.5 million with New York and was not a special-teams contributor, factors that can make any veteran backup vulnerable when final cuts are made.
“I don’t worry about what I don’t control,” Babin said. “But yes, obviously, it was a surprise. Looking at it, I think the coach said they want to win, but then in hindsight, the general manager talked about building. Who knows what exactly is going on? But that’s in the past and I’m here now, and I’m ready to play some ball.”
Pressure remains on Ravens offensive tackles
After being completely overwhelmed by Denver’s edge rushers in Week 1, the Ravens’ offensive tackles won’t find their job against Oakland on Sunday to be much easier.
The Raiders’ outside trio of Justin Tuck, Khalil Mack, and newcomer Aldon Smith will present another major challenge, and left tackle Eugene Monroe missed Wednesday’s practice as he continues to recover from a concussion. Monroe’s potential absence would leave James Hurst to start on the left side as both he and right tackle Rick Wagner try to bounce back from a nightmarish showing against the Broncos.
“Obviously, their outside guys, you have three really good players out there that rotate,” said Harbaugh about the Raiders’ trio. “I’m sure [Smith] is going to be in the game even more and more as we go forward; we would expect that. They’re a very formidable front seven.”
Signed just a couple days before the start of the regular season, the troubled Smith wore out his welcome with the 49ers after countless off-field issues, but no one can dispute his ability to impact a game. Smith made the Pro Bowl in 2012 before concerns over substance abuse and legal issues limited him to just 18 games over the last two seasons, but the 25-year-old already has 44 career sacks entering his fifth season.
Flacco not becoming “hype man”
With Suggs officially being placed on injured reserve on Wednesday, Joe Flacco was asked who would be firing up the team with a speech at the end of pre-game warmups, the veteran linebacker’s chore ever since future Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis retired.
The even-keeled quarterback quickly shot down any notion that he would be the new “hype man” while pointing out that Lewis and Suggs were such naturals doing it and how it needs to be something that isn’t forced.
“Don’t worry, we’ll be ready to play, and we’ll be juiced up come Sunday at 1 o’clock, 4:30, 8 o’clock, whenever it’s going to be,” Flacco said. “We don’t necessarily need a hype man, and I don’t think I’d be doing such a great job of that anyway. I’m sure somebody will come up and feel excited about themselves, and we’ll let them go at it.”