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Zachary Orr Exemplifying Ravens' Faster Defense


Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor scanned the field and saw nothing open, so he dumped a pass off to running back LeSean McCoy.

It was the Ravens' first defensive snap of the season, and they were about to make a statement.

Inside linebacker Zachary Orr and safety Eric Weddle crashed down on the play and clobbered McCoy, igniting a loud cheer throughout M&T Bank Stadium.

A lot has been made of the addition of Weddle to the back end of the defense and young pass rushers to the front seven. But what's gone relatively unnoticed is Orr, the third-year undrafted inside linebacker out of North Texas and only first-time starter on the Ravens defense.

Orr exemplifies one of the biggest changes in Baltimore's defense this year – speed. And it was on full display on the first play of the season.

"We always talked about our defense wanting to get back to playing fast and physical, and to start off the season – the very first defensive play – like that was real good," Orr said.

"It got us going, it got the crowd into it. It just got us pumped up the rest of the game."

The defense didn't stop flying around the field after that. After the game, multiple players commented on how fast it felt on the field. Linebacker Albert McClellan said it was the fastest defense he'd seen since the 2012 Super Bowl unit.

Orr stood out with six tackles, the second-most on the team behind cornerback Shareece Wright.

"I saw a guy running around, playing really fast – really fast," Head Coach John Harbaugh said of Orr. "He knows what he is doing – man, zone coverage, run game – and he runs to the ball. He is like a lightning bolt out there. That is really valuable to the defense."

Baltimore felt all offseason that it would be faster on defense, but seeing it against Buffalo speedsters including quarterback Tyrod Taylor, wide receiver Sammy Watkins, McCoy and running back Reggie Bush, it came to life.

"We felt like going into the game we would shock them with our speed," Orr said. "We haven't had speed like this in a minute. We felt like we could contain those guys with our speed, and for the most part, we did a good job containing them."

The addition of Weddle, shift of Lardarius Webb from cornerback to safety, infusion of faster pass rushers (Za'Darius Smith and Matt Judon) and addition of youth at nickel cornerback (Tavon Young) all helped with speed.

Going with Orr may be the boldest move to add more athleticism. The Ravens released veteran Daryl Smith after three seasons in purple. Smith was one of the defense's most-respected leaders and a tackling machine, but he had started to slow down at 34 years old and in his 13th season.

Baltimore wanted to inject youth and speed in the middle of its defense, and it began doing so by rotating Orr into action at the end of last year. This season, Orr took over full-time. It was in line with what Smith had been telling Orr for two years.

"He would tell me, 'If you get better, you could be the next in line with C.J,'" Orr said. "I just kept that in mind and kept working each and every day to that point. The opportunity was there and I had to take advantage of it."

Orr is also the next in line to continue the rich legacy of Baltimore undrafted free agent linebackers who ultimately become starters, joining the likes of Bart Scott, Jameel McClain, Dannell Ellerbe and Albert McClellan.

Orr still has room to grow because he's such a young player, but he's certainly off to a good start. As the final seconds ticked away in Sunday's win, Orr was emotional as he hugged Weddle and other veterans. He thanked them for believing that he could be a starter.

"He's definitely Force sensitive," veteran linebacker Terrell Suggs said, making a "Star Wars" reference. "He's capable of making some plays. We like Zach in there. He's going to be big for us this year."

And the Ravens aren't the only ones who notice. Browns Head Coach Hue Jackson brought up Orr without being asked when talking about Baltimore's defense.

"We all know about No. 57 [C.J. Mosley], how good he is," Jackson said. "But watching this young player, No. 54. You've gotta be kidding me."

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