Naysayers during the offseason questioned whether the Ravens defense could compete in '09 with the losses of Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard and Rex Ryan. But Jon Gruden had an answer for them on Monday Night Football.
"The Baltimore Ravens don't lose players, they just reload."
He was referring to the newcomers to the Ravens lineup.
Football fans know superstars like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are some of the most dominant players at their positions. They also know that consistent players such as Jarrett Johnson, Kelly Gregg, Dawan Landry, Dominique Foxworth, Fabian Washington, and Trevor Pryce will perform well week in and week out
But they don't all know new players such as DE/LB Paul Kruger, LB Tavares Gooden, LB Jameel McClain, FS Haruki Nakamura, CB Lardarius Webb, and SS Tom Zbikowski.
Kruger, the second-round draft pick from Utah, made an immediate impact for the Ravens.
Against the Redskins, Kruger started in place of Suggs, recorded three tackles and a sack. Against the New York Jets, he started again and recorded five tackles and three pass deflections.
Gooden,a second year player out of Miami, has filled in for Scott and is doing quite well. Last year he played four games and recorded four tackles. He has taken the role as Lewis' understudy and possible replacement when Lewis retires.
Against the Washington Redskins, he had five tackles and against the Jets he had five more and a sack. That single sack was more than Scott's total in 2008.
McClain is a budding superstar. Personally, I think he should have taken Scott's place as the starter. Last year, McClain had two safeties, (one on a blocked punt, the other on a sack) tying the NFL record for a single season. He recorded two-and-a-half sacks last year as well.
Against the Skins he had eight tackles. Against the Jets, he had a career day, totaling 10 tackles and an interception returned 16 yards for a touchdown.
Nakamura is another star in the making. He recorded 12 tackles and a pass deflection last season. In the postseason he had one-and-a-half sacks, two pass deflections, and broke three of Ben Roethlisberger's ribs. In the '09 preseason, he has recorded three tackles and two pass deflections.
Webb is a rookie out of Nicholls State. He is becoming more of a kick returner than a cornerback, but has recorded three tackles and a pass deflection in two preseason games.
Zbikowski is another second-year safety who last year returned kicks and played on special teams. This year he has made an impact as a strong safety, recording one sack and two tackles against Washington and two tackles against the Jets.
All these players reinforce the Ravens' defense and they already look to be the best defense in the league, ahead of the Steelers, Vikings and any other top defense from last year.
As a matter of fact, the defense could be better than the Ravens' 2000 team, making them the best of all time.
A bold prediction, but the way their starters performed against the Redskins and Jets, it could very well be true.