Ravens will use committee of players to fill void on defense

  • Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe tackles Kansas City running back Cyrus Gray on Oct. 7.
Ravens linebacker Dannell Ellerbe tackles Kansas City running… (DAVE KAUP, REUTERS )
October 15, 2012|By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun

Nearly a year ago, inside linebacker Ray Lewis' foot injury sidelined him for four games and created a void of experience and leadership on the Ravens' defense.

And the Ravens dealt with that crisis by winning every game without the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Now, the Ravens are going to have to adjust to a new reality with Lewis out for the remainder of the season due to a torn right triceps that's expected to require surgery.

The situation is compounded by the loss of $50 million cornerback Lardarius Webb with a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, a season-ending injury that will be repaired soon by Dr. James Andrews.

"We did it last year, we won every game when Ray was hurt, so we have confidence," inside linebacker Dannell Ellerbe told The Baltimore Sun on Monday after learning of the severity of Lewis' injury suffered during a 31-29 win over the Dallas Cowboys. "We know what that's about. Yes, we leaned on Ray so much.

"He knows what's going on. He put us in place to make plays. At the same time, we'll be able to carry on what he started and go out there and play good football."

Plummeting to 26th in the NFL in total defense after finishing third last season, the Ravens will have to shuffle their lineup to account for the loss of two starters.

"I feel great about our guys' chances to fill in," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's something that we've been able to do in the past. That's what you have to be able to do. Obviously, that's going to define what we're able to accomplish this year.

"So, that's something that we are going to need to do from a leadership standpoint and from a playing standpoint. Our chances of doing it? I don't put odds on it. That's just something that we are going to have to get done."

Lewis' vacated middle linebacker position is expected to be filled partly through a committee approach. Weakside inside linebacker Jameel McClain is the top candidate to take over the bulk of Lewis' duties. If McClain shifts over to Lewis' spot, then Ellerbe can line up next to him at inside linebacker.

The Ravens also have the option of plugging in outside linebacker Albert McClellan, who played some inside linebacker last season when Lewis got hurt.

"The guys who are going to be playing are the same guys that stepped in and played last year, to a large extent," Harbaugh said. "Those guys have played a lot of football. We have a lot of confidence in those guys."

McClain, Ellerbe and McClellan are all former undrafted free agents.

A former starter as a rookie in 2009 who was beaten out the following year by McClain, Ellerbe has emerged as an important reserve this season with 28 tackles and 2.5 sacks.

"I just want to show them that I belong," Ellerbe said. "For being an undrafted guy, I want to show that hard work and determination goes a long way."

While Lewis is the Ravens' emotional leader and leads the team with 57 tackles, not having Webb is arguably a more serious problem to deal with.

At age 37, Lewis had drawn criticism for his declining range and ability to shed blocker whereas Webb is in his prime.

Webb is regarded as a shutdown cornerback capable of bottling up the most dangerous receivers.

The former third-round draft pick had eight interceptions last season, including the playoffs. This season, Webb has 25 tackles, one interception, six pass deflections, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.

"It's huge to lose him," special-teams ace Brendon Ayanbadejo said. "He's our biggest ball hawk. We're going to have to avoid too much of a letdown."

Webb is also arguably one of the top tacklers on a struggling defense. The Ravens allowed a franchise-record 227 rushing yards to the Cowboys, and a total of 441 rushing yards over the past two games.

And those breakdowns transpired with Lewis and Webb on the field.

"It's difficult, but we can't allow that to stop us," said starting cornerback Cary Williams, who has intercepted three passes over the past three games. "We have to step up to the challenge, and we're going to be challenged. The schedule doesn't get any easier. We just have to overcome adversity and continue to play hard."

The Ravens will plug in former first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith to replace Webb.

Although Smith didn't finish the game Sunday due to a minor strained groin, he had seven tackles and one pass deflection.

"I'm ready," Smith said. "I've been waiting my turn and I've just got to go out there and keep making plays. No shot toward Lardarius, obviously he makes us that much better, but I think we have enough guys to step up and fill his role."

It will be a group effort in the secondary.

The Ravens will rely upon several cornerbacks, including Corey Graham operating as the nickel back, Chykie Brown in the dime package and potentially having rookie Asa Jackson active for the first time.

"It's going to hurt the team a lot, but that's a chance for somebody else to step up," Brown said. "Webb is a great player who means a lot to our defense. We're going to miss him. In my heart, I knew I was ready."

Although Lewis and Webb will eventually be placed on injured reserve, the Ravens haven't made any roster moves yet. It's unclear how the Ravens will proceed.

"You always need more corners," Harbaugh said. "You always need more of everything. We will probably lean toward the best player available."



Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.