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Eisenberg: New Blood Defense, 'Next Man Up' Offense

Posted Jun 22, 2013

The team seemingly had more faith in its offensive depth than its 'next generation' on defense.

The roll call of personnel changes the Ravens have experienced this offseason is pretty long. Ray Lewis and Matt Birk retired. Anquan Boldin was traded. Bernard Pollard and Vonta Leach were released. Dannell Ellerbe, Paul Kruger and Cary Williams left via free agency.

The departures of those players and others has brought a stack of new names into the mix, and watching the 2013 Ravens begin to take shape in minicamp last week, I couldn’t help noticing how the front office used different approaches in overhauling the offense and defense.

To re-fortify the defense, which experienced more losses and thus had more holes to fill, the team went outside the building, bringing in a handful of proven veterans such as Elvis Dumervil, Chris Canty, Michael Huff, Marcus Spears and Daryl Smith; and also addressing that side of the ball with its first four picks in the April draft, selecting Matt Elam, Arthur Brown, Brandon Williams and John Simon.

The result is a host of new starters, new rotations and new looks.

But on the other side of the ball, where three starters are gone, the Ravens have mostly promoted from within rather than add new blood. They’re going with their “next man up” philosophy.

At wide receiver, they’re seemingly content to let a host of former understudies battle it out to see who replaces Boldin. It could be Tandon Doss, Deonte Thompson, David Reed, all three or someone else.

At center, their plan to replace Birk with Gino Gradkowski seemingly is unfolding exactly as planned, although the team did trade for A.Q. Shipley to provide competition.

The only offensive hole being filled by a new face is at fullback, where rookie Kyle Juszczyk seemingly is being penciled in to take Leach’s snaps and more.

The situation remains fluid and the team does have the salary cap space to make an addition or two if it wants, but at this point, the offseason can be summed up this way: New blood on defense, “next man up” on offense.

A couple of observations about this:

It isn’t really a surprise. While both units had their ups and downs in 2012, the offense really came together and morphed into a powerhouse under quarterback Joe Flacco in the playoffs, while the defense clearly needed to be upgraded in numerous places, as the unit’s coordinator, Dean Pees, recently stated. So, bottom line, the offense needed less help. Its status quo was pretty darn good.

The front office had more faith in its offensive depth than its “next generation” on defense. Maybe that wouldn’t have been the case if Sergio Kindle had remained healthy and Terrence Cody had emerged as a force, but between those situations and the departures of Kruger and Ellerbe, the defense needed more of a personnel patch.

Going with the “next man up” on offense is going to test the Ravens’ philosophy of building through the draft – the ENTIRE draft, as opposed to just ballyhooed top picks. Think about it. What do potential starters Gradkowski, Doss and Juszczyk have in common? They’re all fourth-round selections.

Of course, when you put together a Super Bowl-winning roster with former “deep draft” selections such as Dennis Pitta (fourth round), Ed Dickson (third), Arthur Jones (fifth), Marshal Yanda (third), Lardarius Webb (third) and Bernard Pierce (third) playing key roles, and other such as Chykie Brown (fifth), Pernell McPhee (fifth) and DeAngelo Tyson (seventh) also getting their share of snaps, a team’s ability to put its entire draft to use is already clearly indicated.

Between Elam, Brown, Williams and Juszczyk, this year’s draft class could be called on to provide more of an immediate impact than any of the Ravens’ recent classes. And underneath that developing plot line, those other “deep draft” picks could also be asked to step up and produce.

I don’t know if the Ravens intentionally used different approaches for their offensive and defensive overhauls or if it just worked out that way on a case-by-case basis, but in the end, the goal for each unit is the same: play winning football, regardless of how the unit was put together.

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