“The Competition” is a BaltimoreRavens.com series that breaks down every position battle leading up to training camp.
McClain was a consistent presence last season, starting the first 13 games and making 79 tackles. Then he suffered a serious spinal cord injury when trying to make a routine tackle on Washington Redskins running back Alfred Morris. McClain was out for the rest of the season and still hasn’t been cleared to practice. He remains positive about suiting up in training camp.
Bynes spent much of his rookie year on the practice squad. Due to injuries last year, he became a needed defensive piece. He played in 10 games and started three. Bynes’ play was a bit up and down during that time, and he finished with 34 tackles and one deflection. Most fans recognize Bynes for sealing the Ravens’ Super Bowl XLVII victory with a special teams tackle. He’s trimmer this season.
A former undrafted player, McClellan has turned into a key and versatile defender. Last year, he started 11 games at outside linebacker and made 49 tackles. He’s versatile and can also play inside linebacker. Considering the injuries at the position and lack of depth, McClellan could help inside.
Hall has made a rare position switch from defensive tackle, where he played sparingly last year, to inside linebacker. He lost about 50 pounds to make the change. Hall last played linebacker in high school, and will need time to adjust. He could turn into a good run stopper, but his biggest challenge is in pass coverage.
Carr was cut at the end of last year’s training camp, then added back to the practice squad in mid-October. The former Florida State prospect who transferred to Alabama State after having off-the-field issues has matured. Now he’s got to prove himself in camp.
Bryant is a local prospect out of Randallstown, Md., who attended James Madison University. He had a whirlwind first season. Bryant was originally signed by Houston as an undrafted free agent, then spent time on practice squads of the Buccaneers, Colts and Jets before signing with the Ravens in mid-December.
The Jacksonville Jaguars’ all-time leading tackler is a long-time starter in the league. He’s been considered an underrated player for much of his career. Smith has played outside and inside linebacker, and is considered to be strong in coverage and a tackles eater. He’s coming off a nagging groin injury that limited him to just two games last year.
The Kansas State product is known for his speed, as he flies to the ball and is an explosive tackler. He’s also good in coverage. The question is whether he’s bulky enough to bang inside with bigger blockers. Brown dealt with a sports hernia that sidelined him for part of this summer’s workouts and practices.
If McClain is healthy, he’s likely a starter and leader in the defensive front seven. The Ravens re-signed him to a three-year deal last offseason. But since McClain still hasn’t been cleared to play, he’s not a guarantee heading into training camp.
The spot next to McClain should be a good battle between the veteran Smith and rookie Brown. While Smith has the experience, the Ravens have undergone a speed and youth movement defensively, and Brown may have the edge. But Smith has proven he’s more than capable of starting if the second-round pick isn’t ready.
If McClain’s not ready, the Ravens would likely turn to Smith and Brown in the middle. Smith is also coming back from injury, but felt good and caught on quickly during minicamp. Brown has to make up for lost time but has plenty of talent.
Bynes and McClellan will push them for playing time and provide support in case of injury. Both are solid players with starting experience, so they’re capable of stepping in. The Ravens also have plenty of versatility in the middle, which allows them to mix and match to maximize each linebacker’s strength.