Ravens retain `D' flexibility

Ryan not concerned with lack of size on line

Pro Football

March 21, 2006|By JAMISON HENSLEY | JAMISON HENSLEY,SUN REPORTER

The Ravens acknowledged their new-look line could lead to more traditional formations on defense, but not a change from that group's successful tradition.

A week after the arrival of Trevor Pryce and Justin Bannan - and perhaps a return of the 4-3 alignment - coordinator Rex Ryan said the Ravens will remain among the elite defenses.

There has been some question as to whether the Ravens can maintain that excellence after losing their top two free-agent targets on the defensive line.

Unable to retain nose tackle Maake Kemoeatu, the Ravens opted to go with a smaller and quicker replacement in Bannan. When they lost defensive end Tony Weaver, they responded by signing Pryce, who is more of a pass rusher than a run stopper.

While some NFL observers consider these additions as Band-Aids, Ryan said the Ravens are ready to prove otherwise.

"We're fortunate to be able to add two quality players," Ryan said. "I'm excited and I can't wait. What's exciting to me is to have [safety] Ed Reed and [linebacker] Ray Lewis on the field for 16 games next year."

With those two former NFL Defensive Players of the Year missing a bulk of the 2005 season with injuries, the Ravens' defense came up with some creative ways to finish No. 5 in the league.

The Ravens alternated from a 3-4 formation (three linemen and four linebackers) to an unconventional 4-4 look (with linebacker Adalius Thomas playing safety). Although Ryan doesn't want to pigeonhole his defense, he said there will be more four-man fronts than last season (with Pryce and Terrell Suggs at ends and Bannan and Kelly Gregg at tackles).

"Obviously, with guys that we've added, we can be able to line up in some traditional defenses and get after you," Ryan said. "We still want to be able to play multiple fronts. We're not going to do offenses any favor and just line up. Everyone wants to target you: Are you a 4-3 or 3-4? We're just multiple. We truly define that."

Whatever alignment the Ravens choose, the toughest task is making up for the lack of girth inside.

The Ravens are banking on two high-effort linemen - Bannan and Gregg - to shield blockers from Lewis. Gregg will be asked to be the same cog at nose tackle as Kemoeatu despite, at 310, weighing 40 fewer pounds.

"Kelly played nose a couple of years ago, and, in my opinion, he was the best in the league," Ryan said. "I'm not worried about Kelly Gregg one bit as far as size. He's a big man, but he's just short. He's going to whip any of those big guys that you're talking about."

The other concern surrounding the Ravens' line is the health of Pryce. After missing 14 games in 2004 with a herniated disc in his lower back, he recorded four sacks last season, his lowest total for a full season.

"On my [Ravens] physical, the doctors gave me an X-ray, and she said she couldn't find anywhere where I got hurt on my back," Pryce said. "So that pretty much answers the question for you."

The Ravens say Pryce's brash attitude makes him a perfect fit for this defense.

"He's angry and we're happy about that," Ryan said. "We want all of our guys to have a little chip on their shoulder."

jamison.hensley@baltsun.com

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