Defense: Behind the Buzz

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The Ravens have made many big adjustments and moves this offseason, but there are certainly some issues that are flying under many fans' radars.

At the conclusion of this week's Organized Team Activity (OTA), BaltimoreRavens.com takes a look at some of those issues with the Ravens' defense.

Hot Topic: Tavares Goodentakes over for Bart Scott at middle linebacker, lining up opposite Ray Lewis.

Under the Radar:While Gooden has received the most publicity for seizing the starting role, his backup, Jameel McClain figures to be a key contributor, as well. As an undrafted rookie last year, McClain beat the odds and made the 53-man roster as a special teams contributor. The tough product of inner-city Philadelphia played his way into spot pass rushing duty on defense, and ended up with 2.5 sacks and an amazing two safeties.

Now, McClain has made the move inside, as the Ravens want him to provide depth for Lewis and Gooden at middle linebacker, a position McClain has never played. During OTAs, McClain looked like he was adapting to the switch. As a former defensive end at Syracuse, he may not have the natural instincts and speed sideline to sideline, but he does have an undeniable nose for the football.

If an unfortunate injurey happens to befall Gooden or Lewis, the Ravens can rest comfortable knowing that a capable substitute is developing this offseason.

Hot Topic:The franchised Terrell Suggs is still absent from workouts as the Ravens try to work out a long-term contract with him before the season begins.

Under the Radar:There is no doubt that Suggs will report to the team as soon as he has a new deal, or at least a few days after training camp closes if not. That will give the Ravens one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. One of the less-heralded issues is the question of how much second-round draft pick Paul Kruger can offer the rush.

The second-round draft pick from Utah has basically been relying on speed and effort in minicamps and routinely gets swallowed up by left tackle Jared Gaither. Head coach John Harbaugh said he still "has a long way to go" in terms of learning the defense and how to be a professional.

Coming from the Mountain West Conference, Kruger was able to take over games against lesser competition, so this offseason has definitely been an eye-opener for him. Kruger's upside, however, is evident. In college, he had a lot of responsibilities, regularly dropping in coverage from his defensive line position and notched 10.5 sacks in only two years with the Utes. That versatility should help him as the Ravens attempt to convert him into an outside linebacker in Suggs' mold.

Hot Topic:Defensive tackle Haloti Ngata didn't attend any voluntary OTAs until last Wednesday.

Under the Radar:There might be a little rust on Ngata as he eases into playing shape, but that's to be expected. That there hasn't seemed to be any rust on his defensive linemate, Kelly Gregg, is what's surprising.

Gregg, who has been a regular at team headquarters since late February, was very dedicated to rehabbing a painful knee injury that required two surgeries. He had one in training camp last year to relieve some pain, but that didn't work, so Gregg elected to have microfracture surgery, a risky procedure that takes a long time from which to recover.

Still, "Buddy Lee" hasn't missed a beat. He is running around practice without any noticeable limp and maintains that he is pain-free. As one of the most underrated nose tackles in the game, Gregg will be critical in Ngata's production this season. As those two mountains go, so does the Ravens' defense.

Hot Topic:The Ravens lost playmaking safety Jim Leonhard to Rex Ryan and the New York Jets.

Under the Radar:Some may have forgotten, but Baltimore started the season with Dawan Landry at safety opposite Ed Reed, not the little-known Leonhard. When Landry took a crunching shot to the top of his helmet in Week 2, he was carted off the field never to return in 2008 due to a spinal cord concussion.

Now, Landry is back in his rightful position and playing with confidence. Landry's size and hitting ability allows him to help against the run and take on tight ends in coverage, allowing Reed to roam the field like a center fielder.

Landry said he still needs to get a few real hits under his belt before he can put the memory of that day behind him. Once that happens, expect Landry to revert back to the guy his teammates call "Wop!" after the sound made when he collides with a ball carrier.

Hot Topic:Aside from Domonique Foxworth, the Ravens' top cornerbacks have not been able to practice.

Under the Radar:True, Baltimore needs to get Fabian Washington (neck, shoulder) and Samari Rolle (groin) back to 100 percent. Thankfully, there are two months before the regular season kicks off. Having them out, along with Frank Walker (shoulder) and Chris Carr (shoulder), has given the next tier of corners a chance to show what they can do.

Over the past few practices, Evan Oglesby, Anwar Phillips and Derrick Martin have all offered flashes of playmaking ability, getting a hand on a pass here and there and even grabbing their share of interceptions.

A team can never have too many cornerbacks, so the Ravens have a good problem in that they go seven or eight deep at the position, including the raw rookie Lardarius Webb. The "under-the-radar" story is that it would be impossible to keep all of them on the active roster, meaning that good players will be cut. The numbers game can be cruel, but if everyone continues to play at a high level, other teams could come calling.

Future Hot Topic: Greg Mattison's performance as he steps into the big shoes vacated by Ryan as defensive coordinator will be under intense scrutiny throughout the season. Ravens fans should not worry, though. Just like Ryan, Mattison has the respect of his players, which is key in getting them to exert maximum effort. And, aside from a few tweaks to the defense, not much will change. Mattison is another coach that believes a system is built around the guys wearing the helmets, not the other way around.

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