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Ravens defensive lineman Haloti Ngata was as surprised as anyone when he heard that Dwan Edwards signed with the Buffalo Bills late Tuesday night.
Although Edwards was an unrestricted free agent testing the waters, Ngata thought in the back of his mind that Edwards would still be back on the Baltimore defensive line in 2010.
Now Ngata, like all Ravens fans, is left wondering how the Ravens plan on replacing a player who in his five years in Baltimore grew to become a starter and integral part of the defense.
"It's huge," Ngata said of the loss. "We're definitely going to miss him. Now we've got to look for another D-end that could work well with Trevor [Pryce]. It's going to be kind of weird during this season without him or [Justin] Bannan."
The Ravens also saw Bannan, their backup defensive tackle, leave via free agency. Bannan could be easier to replace than Edwards considering the Ravens have three big, young defensive tackles waiting in the wings in Lamar Divens, Kelly Talavou and Brandon McKinney.
Edwards was a versatile lineman who totaled a career-high 50 tackles, one sack and two fumble recoveries last season. In Week 6, Edwards took over the starting defensive end position, becoming a solid run-stuffer and pass rusher. That left Pryce as primarily a third-down pass-rushing force.
Therefore, the Ravens likely will search for someone to step into those first two downs. Here are three ways Baltimore could find that player.
1. Look Inside
The Ravens have always been a very multiple defense and the organization has a track record of drafting versatile players. This could be a situation where that pays dividends.
Outside linebackers Jarrett Johnson and Terrell Suggs are both capable of putting their hand in the dirt and Jameel McClain could be a candidate to slide around as well. Second-year player Paul Kruger is a defensive end/linebacker who is looking for playing time and is attempting to put on more bulk this offseason.
"It's hard to say how you feel," Kruger said of Edwards' departure. "Obviously you don't want any of your teammates to leave. But just like what happened with Suggs last year, if somebody goes down or leaves or whatever, you better be ready to play. And I'm anxious and excited for an opportunity."
2. Free Agency
There are several quality defensive ends still left on the unrestricted free agency market. Among them are Charles Grant of the New Orleans Saints and Adewale Ogunleye of the Chicago Bears.
Grant, 31, has been stout against the run during his eight-year career and logged 44 tackles and 5.5 sacks last season. Grant, who was released by the Saints this offseason told Sirius NFL Radio that he would like to face New Orleans twice a year. The Ravens host the Saints in 2010.
Ogunleye, 32, is more of a pass-rushing defensive end. He has averaged more than eight sacks per year during the past eight seasons and notched 6.5 in 2009. Ogunleye posted 38 tackles in 14 games last year, down from 62 stops in 2008.
Defensive line is one of the most top-heavy and deepest positions in this April's draft. Judging by the myriad of mock drafts circulating, there are at least four defensive ends that could be selected in the first round.
The list includes Jason Pierre-Paul of South Florida, Derrick Morgan of Georgia Tech, Everson Griffen of Southern California and Jared Odrick of Penn State. Carlos Dunlap of Florida and Cal defensive lineman Tyson Alualu are top-end prospects as well.
"There are a lot of different guys, probably five or six guys we like in the first round," Director of Player Personnel Eric DeCosta* *said. "If we have a chance to get one of those guys we will."