The Ravens defense has the talent. It has the experience. It has the depth.
Now all it needs to do is jive.
There could be as many as seven new starters on this year’s defense, and with that many new faces, they need to get on the same page.
“Communication is the final piece,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said Saturday.
The Ravens’ first-team defense put that on display in the Ravens’ preseason opener in Tampa Bay.
On the first drive, Baltimore’s unit drove the Bucs backwards. First, Daryl Smith made a tackle for loss, then a Chris Canty sack sent the Bucs off the field.
But on the next drive, Tampa Bay hit a 22-yard completion to Kevin Ogletree, leading to the Bucs’ first field goal. On Tampa Bay’s next offensive play, quarterback Mike Glennon hit Tom Crabtree for a 61-yard completion.
Crabtree snuck behind the Ravens’ base defense, which missed a check, according to Harbaugh. Linebacker Josh Bynes didn’t hang with Crabtree, and neither did cornerback Corey Graham, who eventually caught up with the lumbering tight end. That led to another field goal. Besides those two plays, and a couple pass interference penalties on cornerback Chykie Brown later in the first half, the Ravens largely shut down Tampa Bay’s offense.
“We’ve got a lot of communication issues on defense that came up, things we need to work on,” Harbaugh said after the game. “From a cohesion standpoint, we have a lot of work to do.”
With linebacker Ray Lewis retired, linebacker Jameel McClain still sidelined by a spinal cord injury and safety Ed Reed in Houston, Baltimore’s communication chain from last year has been cut.
Now free-agent addition Daryl Smith is taking over much of the talking. Harbaugh said he’s becoming the quarterback of the defense. Even though Smith didn’t have a single negative in Thursday’s game, according to Harbaugh, the linebacker wasn’t happy with the communication.
He gets the call from Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees and must communicate that to the rest of the defense. If changes are made, he calls them out to the defensive line and must echo them to the secondary. Players in their respective position groups, especially in the secondary, also must do a lot of talking so there aren’t breakdowns.
“When you have new guys come in to a system, we all have to be talking the same way,” Smith said.
“Communication is a big part of being a good defense. The communication factor is huge for us and we’ll be building that as training camp goes on.”
Talking can be stressed in meeting rooms and in practice. But it mostly comes from playing together on the field, where players can build trust in each other. It’s one reason why preseason games are so important for the Ravens this year.
Harbaugh said those in the secondary have to anticipate different offensive formations. That anticipation must become second nature, he added.
“Penalties and mistakes,” Harbaugh said. “If we don’t do that on defense, people are going to have a tough time moving the ball on us.”