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Eisenberg: Four Veterans Need To Wreak More Havoc On Defense

Posted Aug 2, 2014

The Ravens have drafted Generation Next, but for this year, veterans will make the difference.

As training camp rolls on at the Under Armour Performance Center and we get a better look at the young players the Ravens have recently drafted, you can begin to envision the team’s defense of the future.

Linebacker C.J. Mosley is the centerpiece, a three-down guy making plays against both the run and pass; it’s early, but the Ravens might have a star there. Safety Matt Elam is anchoring the secondary, bringing an edge to the back end. Timmy Jernigan is a handful up front, a big man who can move, leading the interior rotation.

All three have joined the Ravens in the past 17 months as high picks in defensive-oriented drafts that also produced linemen Brandon Williams and Brent Urban, linebackers Arthur Brown and John Simon, and safety Terrence Brooks.

As those players flood into a depth chart that also includes established young players such as cornerback Jimmy Smith and linebacker Courtney Upshaw, it doesn’t take much imagination to see the Generation Next unit forming. A slew of current young contributors such as linemen DeAngelo Tyson and Kapron Lewis-Moore, linebacker Josh Bynes and cornerbacks Asa Jackson and Chykie Brown could also have roles.

But of course, while the Ravens surely are comforted by what lies ahead, they’re more concerned right now about the present.

They’re hoping their 2014 defense performs a tick or two … or three … better than last year’s unit, which was ranked 12th in the league, a respectable slot, but fell short at key tasks such as denying big plays and getting off the field in crunch time.

“We’re not saying we were bad. We’re saying we want to be dominant,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said Friday. “We want to be a top five, top three defense, where people fear us.”

How do the Ravens make that improvement?

The talents of their many young players can and will help; they certainly hope Mosley, for one, can make an immediate impact.

But it’s their high-priced defensive stalwarts who really need to kick things up a notch or two.

The Ravens can play better defense in 2014 if they get more out of tackle Haloti Ngata, linebackers Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil, and cornerback Lardarius Webb.

Those are the Ravens’ big defensive names, and while all put up solid enough numbers last season, they’ve all expressed the desire to wreak more havoc.

It’s a must, frankly. We don’t know whether these players will be part of the Generation Next defense, but they’re needed now.

Ngata, 30, is the heart of the run defense, which has had its ups and downs, and he admitted early in camp that he wants to get back to being a more disruptive force, as he was earlier in his career. Early signs are encouraging, as he appears healthier and more energetic than in recent training camps. A long season of double-teams awaits.

Dumervil, 30, had a batch of sacks early in 2013, but his pace slowed down the stretch, partly due to an ankle injury. He has added some weight after admitting that the physical nature of play in the AFC North took a toll, and Pees talked Friday about slotting him in pass-rushing roles.

“We’ve got to put him in position where he can get one-on-one with guys and let him do what he can do. That’s our goal,” Pees said.

Suggs, 31, also was somewhat quiet down the stretch in 2013, but the team signed him to a contract extension in the offseason, a sign of faith. He is in superb shape and has been extremely active in camp, probably the defense’s top player.

As for Webb, 28, the secondary’s leader wasn’t quite as effective as he wanted in 2013, but he was coming back from an ACL tear. His knee is fine now, he said, but a new concern has arisen: a back injury that has sidelined him for a week. “Backs are funny,” Head Coach John Harbaugh said earlier this week, conceding that concern exists.

For the Ravens to achieve what Pees wants on defense, they need Webb healthy and on the field, Ngata effectively plugging the middle, and Suggs and Dumervil competing to see who gets more sacks.

The future on that side of the ball rests with younger players, but the old guard, if you will, is still the foundation today, charged with making a difference.

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