Ravens Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees sees the positive of losing seven defensive starters from last year's Super Bowl team.
It means there are seven starting positions to compete for this year. And he already sees the battles heating up during Organized Team Activities (OTAs).
"It's amped up a little bit as far as in the classroom and all that stuff," Pees said. "Guys feel like they have a chance."
As Pees pointed out, if a mike linebacker came to the Ravens anytime over the past 16 years, they knew they were going to be behind legendary Ray Lewis. But this is the start of a new Ravens defensive era.
Lewis' spot is up for grabs, as is the other inside linebacker position with Dannell Ellerbe bolting for Miami. There are two vacancies at safety with Ed Reed going to Houston and Bernard Pollard to Tennessee. A pass-rushing outside linebacker is needed with Paul Kruger in Cleveland, a cornerback spot is free with Cary Williams in Philadelphia and nose tackle is open with Ma'ake Kemoeatu not re-signed.
There are leading candidates for some jobs, such as Elvis Dumervil, Jimmy Smith, Michael Huff and rookie Matt Elam. But, while they may be penciled in, there's still a long time until the depth chart is in ink.
"To me, the best thing I like about when I watch film [of practice] is the competitiveness between the first and second group – even the third group that gets in there – they are all fighting for a spot," Pees said. "They all kind of say, 'I have a chance.' Sometimes that's very rewarding."
Pees gave an example of how powerful competition can be for a team. He recalled when he was coaching at Miami (Ohio) and was set to face No. 3-ranked LSU, who was fresh off a 35-7 win over No. 7-ranked Texas A&M.
"We were trying to figure out how little Miami of Ohio, how we're not going to get slaughtered here," Pees said.
Pees came up with an idea to split up his team into three different squads. Each squad had just a few starters and the rest were backups. Then Pees rotated the different units throughout the game. It was in part to keep them fresh, but to also motivate the backups.
"What I found out in doing that is because everybody had a role and everybody felt like they had a part in that defense, they played their [butt] off," Pees said. "We beat them 21-12.
"The thing of it is that sometimes the more you get involved in a package and guys aren't just looking and saying, 'I'm a perennial backup,' guys play a little harder and play a little faster and play a little more together."
That has been the case so far during OTAs. Pees was very pleased with the defense when speaking after Thursday's practice.
"The thing I like about this group is they're very attentive," he said. "They do a great job in the classroom. We have been working hard on the field. I am very, very pleased with the effort."