As Defensive Coordinator Zach Orr begins his tenure, here are five questions facing Baltimore's defense this offseason:
How will Zach Orr put his DNA on the defense as coordinator?
Orr has built an impressive resume in Baltimore as a former Pro Bowl linebacker who has quickly become a prominent coach. He is a product of the team's defensive tradition, someone who already knows what it means to play and coach like a Raven, a man who says he "bleeds purple and black." Orr's elevation to defensive coordinator at age 31 continues his rapid rise in the coaching ranks, andRavens players are used to hearing his voice. Orr has always been a quick study, and formulating game plans and being a play-caller for the first time is an opportunity he's been preparing for. It remains to be seen if the Ravens will blitz more or less, and how much their defensive schemes will change. However, Orr guaranteed on the "The Lounge” podcast that the Ravens will remain physical. "We're going to hit first and ask questions later," Orr said.
How will the futures of Justin Madubuike and Patrick Queen play out?
Madubuike and Queen became first-time Pro Bowlers and both are pending free agents. Madubuike led all defensive linemen in sacks (13) and Queen had a career-high 133 tackles and didn't miss a game in four seasons. The Ravens may use the franchise tag to keep one of them in the fold if they can't reach a long-term deal. Madubuike's ability to bring pressure up the middle and play multiple positions is a unique skillset, and Queen and Roquan Smith make up the league's top inside linebacker tandem. Losing Madubuike or Queen would create a void, and young players such as linebacker Trenton Simpson and tackle Travis Jones would be asked to assume bigger roles.
Can the pass rush remain a major force?
The Ravens led the NFL in sacks (60) with contributions from a variety of sources. Veteran edge rushers Jadeveon Clowney (9.5 sacks) and Kyle Van Noy (9 sacks) are both pending free agents after having excellent years. Odafe Oweh had a career-high five sacks and enjoyed his best all-around season, and the Ravens don't believe he has reached his ceiling. Second year outside linebacker David Ojabo has spent most of his two NFL seasons rehabbing from injuries and was limited to just three games in 2023. The Ravens will hope that Ojabo can stay healthy and that Oweh continues to blossom. However, Baltimore's pass rush could be challenged to be as dominant as it was in 2023, especially with the futures of Clowney, Van Noy and Madubuike uncertain.
Can the Ravens maintain their cornerback depth?
Brandon Stephens emerged as the Ravens' most consistent cornerback in 2023 and the offseason will give Pro Bowl corner Marlon Humphrey time to recover from an injury-plagued season. However, three veteran corners are pending unrestricted free agents – Ronald Darby, Arthur Maulet, and Rock Ya-Sin. Darby stepped up big-time as a starter when Humphrey was injured and Maulet was the primary nickel corner. Baltimore's cornerback rotation could take a hit and the Ravens are fond of saying that you can never have too many corners. Third-year cornerbacks Jalyn Armour-Davis and Damarion "Pepe" Williams could be young players who see a more prominent role next season if he can remain healthy.
Will the Ravens find more defensive gems in the draft?
All-Pro safety Kyle Hamilton was drafted in 2022, while Queen and Madubuike were drafted in 2020. That's a strong track record for General Manager Eric DeCosta, who may need to find another prospect in this year's draft who develops into a defensive stud. Safety Geno Stone is another pending free agent who may not return, raising the possibility that Baltimore will look for corner/safety help at some point in the draft. The Ravens may have a difficult time finding a plug-and-play starter with the No. 30 pick, but the draft is always a major tool they use to reload their defense.