The 2009 Baltimore Ravens are going through a transition in many facets of their team.
Last season’s defensive coordinator, Rex Ryan, is now the head coach of the New York Jets and is being replaced by 38-year coaching veteran Greg Mattison. Mattison has one year of coaching experience in the NFL, but the players are happy with him as their defensive leader.
Sticking to the defense, there is also player turnover within the secondary.
Fabian Washington and Ed Reed are still under contract, but Chris McAlister has been released, Jim Leonhard followed Ryan to the Jets, and Samari Rolle appears to be back in a reduced role.
Replacing McAlister is Baltimore native Domonique Foxworth. Foxworth is a veteran, but has been a career backup thus far. The other quarter of the starting secondary appears to be an old face in Dawan Landry.
Landry, however, is recovering from a spinal injury suffered in Week 3 last season against the Browns. The secondary is always key for the Ravens' high-risk high-reward defense.
In the linebacker corps, the Ravens lost just one of their three free agents. Bart Scott, like Leonhard, left for the Jets to join Ryan. Baltimore has a few candidates that could fill the spot vacated by Scott.
The first candidate seems to be second-year linebacker Tavares Gooden. Gooden was Ray Lewis’ roommate at last season’s training camp and picked up a lot of good study habits that seems to have translated to the field.
Other candidates are Brendon Ayanbadejo, Prescott Burgess, fifth-round pick Jason Phillips, and second-year player Jameel McClain.
On the front line of the defense, Kelly Gregg returns after missing all of last season with micro-fracture surgery. He should immediately improve an already stout defensive line. The Ravens also drafted Paul Kruger as a pass-rusher to help keep an aging Trevor Pryce fresh.
With a new defensive coordinator and new parts to the defense, Baltimore still hopes to have an aggressive, dominant defense. Mattison has learned how the Ravens play defense and the players seem very comfortable with him.
With all the personnel changes becoming commonplace in the salary-cap era of the NFL, Baltimore’s defense, when healthy, has been suffocating for the last decade and the franchise wants to keep their tradition of excellence.
On offense, Baltimore has had some turnover, but not nearly as significant as on defense. The loss of center Jason Brown seemed to be a blow to the franchise at the time, but they didn’t panic and reeled in lifelong Minnesota Viking, and six-time Pro Bowler, Matt Birk to play center.
Recently, offensive tackle Willie Anderson retired, essentially ushering in first-round draft pick Michael Oher. Also, Adam Terry, Marshall Yanda, and Ben Grubbs are recovering from injuries.
Baltimore also signed quarterback John Beck, showing the utmost confidence in second-year starter Joe Flacco. The signing of Beck made it necessary for the Ravens to release veteran Todd Bouman.
Beck and Troy Smith will compete for the backup job to Flacco. Offensive coordinator Cam Cameron used Smith in a variety of ways last season, but is also familiar with Beck from their days with the Miami Dolphins. Cameron could use either quarterback on gameday, as both have different attributes that will help Baltimore’s offense.
The recent addition of Kelley Washington will bolster the receiving corps and the special teams because of Washington’s size and effort. Marcus Smith’s development and Demetrius Williams’ health will be another addition to the offense that the Ravens didn’t have last season.
There seems to be one glaring hole on special teams. At the end of the 2008 season, Matt Stover’s contract was up so the Ravens have been left without a reliable kicker.
Young kicker Steven Hauschka will compete with undrafted free agent Graham Gano for the kicker’s spot. Both kickers battling for a roster spot are unproven and haven’t been put in pressure situations at the end of the game as Stover had been for the first 13 years of the Ravens franchise.
Another issue that seems to be of concern on special teams is kick returning.
Yamon Figurs is fast, but hasn’t really developed as the Ravens had hoped when they made him a third-round pick. To rectify this situation, in this past draft, Baltimore drafted small-school cornerback, and speedster, Lardarius Webb.
Webb had a hamstring issue in the first mini-camp, but will be ready for training camp and is expected to help on special teams. Coach Jerry Rosburg always has the special teams ready to play and, with new personnel this season, that isn’t expected to change.
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