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Next Man Up


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

A tight salary cap situation has forced them to make trades, cuts and allow starters to walk in free agency. The Ravens also had veterans Ray Lewis and Matt Birk call it a career after the Super Bowl XLVII victory.

In total, the Ravens have lost nine players who started at least one game last season and may turn to younger players on the roster who have been waiting for their opportunities to crack the lineup.

Much can change between now and the start of the regular season – including the draft, free agent signings and potential cuts and injuries – but here's a look at the current options to be the next men up for the recent departures:

Outside linebacker (Paul Kruger to the Browns)

  • Courtney Upshaw: The Ravens lost their leading pass rusher and emerging talent when Kruger signed a $40 million contract with the Browns. But the good news is they used last year's top draft pick on an outside linebacker of the future in Upshaw. The Alabama product had a strong rookie season, where he proved to be a valuable run stuffer and also flashed pass-rushing prowess. Head Coach John Harbaugh pointed to Upshaw's development as a pass rusher as an area he would like to see the second-year veteran grow, which could allow him to make up for the loss in sack production with Kruger leaving.
    Cornerback (Cary Williams to the Eagles)
  • Jimmy Smith: The Ravens have high hopes for their 2011 first-round pick. His first two NFL seasons have been injury riddled, as he dealt with an ankle problem his rookie season and a sports hernia last year. He will likely compete with Corey Graham for a starting job opposite Lardarius Webb, as long as Webb is able to get back to full strength by the start of the season. Smith is a big corner that has shown flashes of potential during his first two seasons, including some key plays on the final drive of the Super Bowl XLVII victory.
    Safety (Ed Reed to the Texans, Bernard Pollard to the Titans)
  • Christian Thompson: Last season's fourth-round pick had an opportunity to watch and learn behind the veteran safeties during his rookie campaign. He was primarily a special teams player last year, but he came into the NFL with a reputation of a solid defender against the run and pass. Thompson is a big hitter and the Ravens will give him an opportunity to show what he can do in training camp and try to earn a starting job.
  • James Ihedigbo: The former Patriot came to the Ravens after getting cut by New England at the end of training camp. He caught on in Baltimore, developing into a solid special teamer and quality backup in the secondary. The Ravens brought him back on a one-year deal this offseason. With Reed and Pollard both gone, Ihedigbo is the most experienced and he's able to play both free and strong safety.

Wide receiver (Anquan Boldin to the 49ers)

  • Tandon Doss: The 2011 fourth-round pick has been groomed the last two seasons to eventually take Boldin's spot in the lineup. He has good hands and gained valuable game experience last season in a rotation with Jacoby Jones as the No. 3 receiver. Doss has a similar build to Boldin, as a strong receiver with good hands and average speed. He can play the slot or move outside, and he has the most experience at receiver behind Jones and Torrey Smith. Harbaugh indicated that the Ravens could use more of a committee approach to take Boldin's spot, meaning that receivers David Reed and Deonte Thompson, and even tight end Dennis Pitta could also fill Boldin's role on offense.
    Inside linebacker (Ray Lewis retired, Dannell Ellerbe to the Dolphins)
  • Josh Bynes: The former undrafted free agent and practice squad player proved to be a valuable part of the defense last season when the linebacking corps was riddled with injuries. Bynes started three games when Lewis, Ellerbe and Jameel McClain were all injured. He held his own in those games and showed that he's more than just a special teams asset. Along with McClain, Bynes will vie for a starting inside linebacker job and look to continue the trend of undrafted linebackers flourishing in the Ravens defense.
    Center (Matt Birk retired)
  • Gino Gradkowski: The Ravens drafted Gradkowski out of Delaware in the fourth round to be the eventual replacement for Birk in the middle of the offensive line. He mostly played special teams last year, but proved in Week 17 against Cincinnati that he could hold his own in the NFL. Gradkowski delivered an impressive performance that week against a Bengals front that included Pro Bowl defensive tackle Geno Atkins. He used last season to learn the rigors of the NFL and also to bulk up in the weight room, and now it's his chance to seize a starting job.
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