Why Ravens Veterans Are Pumped About This Year's Defense

For the first time in a long time, the offense is the focus of attention in Baltimore.

But quietly, a Ravens defense that was very strong last season is gearing up to be even better. Shhh.

Baltimore's defense doesn't want to do too much talking or toot its own horn. After all, the fourth-and-12 letdown that kept the Ravens out of last year's playoffs still eats away at players whenever it's mentioned.

But it's easy to tell in the first few days of training camp that the Ravens' defensive veterans are pumped up about this year's unit. Here are three reasons why:

1. More dynamic

New Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale is using the same scheme employed by Dean Pees and those that preceded him. At its roots, Baltimore's defense is the same. How it's being coached, organized and employed is different.

Under Martindale, players are learning many different positions. This not only gives the Ravens more depth when injuries happen, but it provides players with more flexibility to take on different roles within the same formation.

Specific veterans such as safety Eric Weddle, inside linebacker C.J. Mosley and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, have also been given more freedom to diagnose and change what they and their fellow defenders are doing based on what they see from the offense. This should make Baltimore more unpredictable.

"You have to be in the playbook a lot more now since he opened up the playbook for us more," Mosley said. "It gives the veterans and the guys that are on the field a chance to be more diverse. We won't be lining up as one defense in certain plays or certain formations. We can be in the same defense but have different looks."

2. Better depth

The Ravens have been hammered by injuries in recent years, which has, in effect, forced the unit to fight with one arm tied behind its back. Injuries will happen over the course of the year, but Baltimore feels it's in a better position to handle them this year.

The secondary has been a sore spot in particular, especially when top cornerback Jimmy Smith has gone down. This year, the Ravens have four experienced starters in Smith, Brandon Carr, Marlon Humphrey and Tavon Young. Even at safety, Secondary Coach Chris Hewitt said he believes Chuck Clark could step in as a starter if either Eric Weddle or Tony Jefferson were to go down.

At outside linebacker, Baltimore has an excess of depth behind starters Terrell Suggs and Matthew Judon. It will be a challenge to find snaps for rising second-year talents Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, as well as Za'Darius Smith, who was one of the NFL's leaders in quarterback hits last season.

"The personnel we have is very rare," Suggs said. "We've had legendary defenses in the past, but we've never been this deep at every position, so that's something exciting to look forward to. And we can be a fresher team coming down the stretch in December and January football."

3. Rookies buying in

While this year's Ravens draft started with four straight offensive selections, Baltimore did bolster its unit with the selection of cornerback Anthony Averett (fourth round), inside linebacker Kenny Young (fourth round), safety DeShon Elliott (sixth round) and defensive end Zach Sieler (seventh round).

Given the aforementioned depth, it will be challenging for any of the four rookies to have a big defensive role out of the gate, but defensive tackle Brandon Williams has been impressed with how they've done so far.

"[I'm excited] seeing the rookies come in and having small, minimal errors-- especially on the field, especially being so soon," Williams said. "Actually, throughout all of the offseason workouts, the rookies have come in and done a tremendous job of getting the playbook down-- it being a new playbook-- and just buying in."

Every year, rookies are called into action at some point due to injuries or other reasons. This season will likely be no different, and this year's class looks like it will be ready.

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