When Ravens brass looked at their defense heading into the offseason, one point was clear.
They had to get faster.
To continue adapting to today's passing-driven NFL, the Ravens made it a priority to add fast players that could cover the entire field. They wanted edge rushers who can get after the quarterbacks, safeties that can roam the middle of the field and guard athletic tight ends, interior linemen that can play multiple positions, and inside linebackers that can run sideline-to-sideline.
"Speed is important," Head Coach John Harbaugh said at the conclusion of this year's draft. "We want a big, fast, physical, tough, smart, disciplined football team. That's what we want to be."
The push for defensive speed was clear in this year's draft, as the Ravens used their first four picks on athletic defenders.
They took hard-hitting safety Matt Elam in the first round, adding a player with strong coverage skills who can also come up and defend the run.
"The thing that I think we all like about Matt is his speed," General Manager Ozzie Newsome said.
Elam will likely get paired with veteran free-agent signing Michael Huff as the two starting safeties. Huff is a speedy defensive back who can also play corner, which was part of the attraction to bringing him to Baltimore.
Huff and Elam will take over for veterans Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard, who started for the last two seasons.
"One of the positions we really needed was safety," Newsome told Elam over the phone just after making the pick. "We got Michael Huff, and we'll probably have two of the most athletic safeties in the game by putting you back there with him."
The Ravens followed up the Elam pick by drafting Kansas State linebacker Arthur Brown, Southern Missouri State defensive tackle Brandon Williams and Ohio State linebacker John Simon. All three players are known for their athleticism, and specifically their ability to run.
Brown is slightly undersized at 6-foot-0, 242 pounds, but he ran a 4.68 at the NFL Scouting Combine. His size dropped him down draft boards, similar to what happened with Ray Lewis in 1996, but he has the speed to play bigger and cover the entire field.
"You want to be as fast as possible," Harbaugh said. "You want to be sideline-to-sideline. You want to cover ground."
Picking up Simon in the fourth round was another part of the effort to strengthen the defense by adding speed. When discussing Simon after the draft, Harbaugh pointed to the outside linebacker's energy, leadership and speed.
"John Simon is very fast," Harbaugh said. "He's a 255-pound man that runs a 4.6. This guy can really run."
The draft continued an overhaul of the defensive lineup this offseason, which started soon after the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
Lewis retired, then Reed, Cary Williams,Dannell Ellerbe and Paul Kruger went elsewhere in free agency. The Ravens cut Pollard, and opted not to re-sign veteran nose tackle Ma'ake Kemoeatu. Those departures left the Ravens without seven players from last season that had starting experience.
To replace them, Newsome brought in versatile, athletic players like Chris Canty and Marcus Spears. He also signed one of the top pass rushers in the game in Elvis Dumervil, and added Huff. All of the new additions brought an element of versatility and speed, and that was just the beginning of the transition.
The draft continued the process, and made it even clearer that the Ravens are looking to put a more athletic, faster defensive lineup out on the field next season.
"The fast part of it is really important," Harbaugh said. "These guys are fast.
"Big and fast is something we do like."