Here are two reasons why the Ravens feel secure about the state of their defensive line after Pro Bowl tackle Gerald McCoy chose the Carolina Panthers over the Ravens and Cleveland Browns: Chris Wormley and Willie Henry.
Wormley and Henry look ready to join Pro Bowl tackle Brandon Williams and tackle Michael Pierce as reliable members of the Ravens’ defensive line rotation.
Entering his third season, Wormley has the inside track to replace Brent Urban as a starting defensive end. Urban signed with the Tennessee Titans during free agency, and Wormley has made it clear with his words and actions that he wants to replace Urban as the starter.
“Absolutely,” Wormley said. “I think Brent and I were very similar last year. Brent was our five-technique, and I feel that’s more my style. I got pushed into the three-technique last year, which I was familiar with, but I think this year they’ll be a little more five technique. With Brent gone, it’s an opportunity for me to step in and fill his role.”
Wormley played all 16 games last season and started six, finishing with 16 tackles and one sack while playing 38.7 percent of the defensive snaps. Expect Wormley’s stats and playing time to increase in 2019 as he continues to show more explosiveness as a run-stopper. Wormley also believes he can become a better pass rusher.
“I’m just being a lot more decisive in my moves, and how I want to attack that offensive lineman,” Wormley said. “Obviously you want to get bigger, faster, stronger each year. Once the preseason comes, I want to finish. Get to the quarterback. Get to the running back, make more plays, just being productive.”
Henry’s journey has been different than Wormley’s due to injuries. As a rookie in 2016, Henry was placed on injured reserve in November after not playing a snap. Last season, Henry played just three games and underwent hernia surgery.
However, Henry was very impressive during his only healthy season in 2017 with 3 ½ sacks and 24 tackles while playing 54.6% percent of the defensive snaps. That season showed the impact Henry can have as an inside pass rusher if he stays healthy. With the loss of Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith in free agency, the Ravens may be more reliant on their inside pass rush and Henry sounds ready to provide that element, prepared to do whatever it takes to remain healthy.
“I expect myself to play better than I did a couple of years ago,” Henry said. “I need to pound away, doing what I need to do off the field, whether that means getting my body right, being in the weight room, stretching to make sure I’m flexible. And then in the classroom, making sure I know the playbook. The better I know the playbook, the faster I’ve been able to play. I’m trying to become the most dominant player I possibly can. Not playing last year sucked.”
Head Coach John Harbaugh sensed early this offseason that Henry was working with renewed focus.
“He’s healthy, he’s 100 percent healthy,” Harbaugh said in May during the first session of OTAs. “He’s been in the program from Day 1. He was in shape coming in. He’s in the weight room getting really strong. His weight is probably under what it should be, he’s in such good shape. So, yes, he’s doing really well, and I expect big things from Willie Henry.”
Much of the Ravens’ defensive philosophy is built on winning battles up front, stopping the run and forcing the opposing offense to become one-dimensional. Even with established defensive linemen in the fold, the Ravens drafted defensive tackle Daylon Mack in the fifth round, signed priority free agent defensive tackle Gerald Willis, then pursued McCoy. Even when the Ravens are not adding defensive linemen, they are developing the ones they have.
Wormley and Henry are putting in the work to get better. In 2019, they want to see that work pay dividends, helping the Ravens defense maintain its stature among the NFL’s best.
“We’re definitely a lot younger defense, but we’re a lot faster which is great to see,” Wormley said. “We’re flying around, getting to the ball. That’s where a lot of plays can be made, when they’re 11 hats flying to the ball having fun.
“We lost our three top leaders from the front end to the back end of the defense, but Brandon’s still here. Jimmy Smith’s still here. It’s not like we’re a bunch of guys on our rookie deals. This year gives guys an opportunity to step up, be someone they can trust in the game.