There haven't been too many times in franchise history that the Ravens have had a question at inside linebacker.
Baltimore has filled that position as well as any team in the league over the last 20 years, but the Ravens now have uncertainty there after parting ways with veteran Daryl Smith. Young linebackers Zachary Orr and Arthur Brown are the next in line on the depth chart, and the Ravens expect a battle this summer to see who will start next to C.J. Mosley.
"There's going to be competition," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "That's how we like it."
Orr, an undrafted prospect in 2014, has shown some real potential the last two years. He first proved himself as an ace on special teams, and that led to opportunities on defense. He finished last season with 22 tackles and a sack in limited defensive action, and Orr told reporters on locker-room cleanout day that he had his eye on a starting job regardless of whether Smith returned.
"Whether he's here or not, I'm going to come in trying to compete for a starting job," Orr said. "The game is slowing down, I was able to make some plays out there, was able to hold my own out there."
Brown was a second-round pick in 2013, but his defensive role has declined since his rookie season. He had two tackles last year and played 11 defensive snaps.
Harbaugh also brought up veteran linebacker Albert McClellan as an option. McClellan is a leader of the special-teams unit and has proved his worth since coming to Baltimore as an undrafted prospect in 2010.
McClellan has bounced between inside and outside linebacker, and he has starting experience at both spots. He started 11 games at outside linebacker during the 2012 Super Bowl season. McClellan has stuck mostly to special teams the last three years, but he did have 17 tackles and a sack last season.
Another interesting idea is potentially moving a safety to linebacker as the NFL continues to evolve into a pass-heavy league where linebackers spend more time in pass coverage than plugging run lanes.
"One of those [safeties] might move in there," Harbaugh said.
It's unclear who the likely candidate would be to make that move.
Nick Perry, 6-foot-1 and 211 pounds, is the biggest safety on the team, so the undrafted defender out of Alabama could try to go that route. The other safeties on the roster are Eric Weddle, Lardarius Webb, Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam, Terrence Brooks and Anthony Levine.
Whoever ends up in that position will have big shoes to feel with Smith gone. Smith led the Ravens with 121 tackles last year, and he hardly missed a snap the last three years. The veteran defender was one of Baltimore's most reliable players on the roster.
The Ravens cut Smith earlier this month to save cap room, but had hopes of bringing him back at a discounted salary before he signed with Tampa last week.
"I'm sure he'll do well there," Harbaugh said. "He's a great guy, great leader. I'm very appreciative of everything that he's done."