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Eisenberg: Ravens Have Obsessively Improved Their Defense


It's been an offseason of obsessions for the Ravens.

From the outset, they've focused on building up their secondary, one of their most vulnerable areas in recent years. No one can say they've gone about it halfheartedly.

Last month, they invested considerable dollars to make two defensive backs, Tony Jefferson and Brandon Carr, their top free agent signings. Thursday night, they used their top pick in the 2017 NFL Draft on a cornerback, Marlon Humphrey.

It's been such an onslaught that fans who were complaining online about problems in the secondary started complaining about the Ravens focusing too intently on adding defensive backs when other areas of the team also need help.

Humphrey's addition probably tied a bow on that obsession, but another broke out Friday night when the draft resumed.

Everyone knew the Ravens needed new pass rushers with Elvis Dumervil gone and Terrell Suggs in his mid-30s. Matt Judon showed flashes of promise as a rookie in 2016, but it was time to find new leaders skilled in the dark art of pressuring quarterbacks.

Once again, the Ravens didn't go about it halfheartedly.

They opened Day Two by taking an outside linebacker, Houston's Tyus Bowser, in the second round Friday night. Then they drafted Michigan's Chris Wormley, a defensive lineman known for getting after quarterbacks, with the first of their two third-round picks. Four picks later, they drafted another pass rusher, Alabama's Tim Williams.

That was one, two, three times within a span of 31 picks that they grabbed "get after the quarterback" guys. If that isn't obsessive behavior, what is?

If you throw in the fact that the Ravens' biggest move of the offseason has been re-signing nose tackle Brandon Williams, they've focused almost exclusively on the defensive side of the ball. And that's not an exaggeration. Their only offensive move has been to sign free agent running back Danny Woodhead.

In a way, it's hard to find fault with the obsessive focus on the defense. Historically, the Ravens are a defensive-oriented franchise, but they've lagged at times in recent years. Now it seems they're trying to turn 2017 into  a Throwback Season.

"We're just trying to get very, very strong on defense," GM Ozzie Newsome said Friday night.

I mean, we can see that.

It might work. With all this new blood on the edges and in back, the 2017 defense could be Baltimore's best in a long time. Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees could barely contain his excitement about Humphrey's influence when he spoke at an introductory press conference earlier Friday. One can only imagine how excited he was after those pass rushers just kept coming Friday night.

The problem with it all, of course, is what isn't happening on the other side of the ball. The Ravens' offense was already the weaker of their units for much of the 2016 season, and it's sitting there now with job openings at center, right tackle and receiver.

With the draft's high-impact rounds having come and gone, I think it's fair to say a slice of the fan base is in full panic mode.

I don't think I can talk anyone off the ledge, so I won't try. The Ravens do need another productive receiver, and those holes in the line are glaring.

But here's what Newsome said Friday night after being told of the public's concern: "We aren't done adding players yet." It's a fair point. They could add quality free agent veterans such as center Nick Mangold and receiver Anquan Boldin. They found a starting lineman on Day Three of the draft a year ago. I would suggest waiting to see how it all plays out before rendering judgment.

The Ravens actually did want to take several offensive players Thursday and Friday, but their attempts to trade up were rebuffed and the players were gone before the Ravens could get to them.

"That happens in the draft," Newsome said. "If you had told me (Thursday) at 3 PM that we were going to take four defensive players in the first two rounds, I would have said you were wrong. But that's just how the (draft) board played out."

So it's the year of obsessions. Unpredictable, to say the least. And still developing.

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