Ravens continue to wait for young defensive draft picks to emerge

November 01, 2012|By Aaron Wilson, The Baltimore Sun

The words imparted by Ravens defensive line coach Clarence Brooks resonated with nose guard Terrence Cody, a conversation he hasn't forgotten.

Upon his arrival at team headquarters after being drafted in the second round three years ago, Cody was promptly informed by Brooks that he was expected to carry on the Ravens' tradition of dominant defensive players.

"Yeah, we try to have guys come in and make an impact," said Cody, a former consensus All-American at Alabama. "When I first came in, [Brooks] told me, 'We're looking to have big things come from you.' I'm on the verge of doing that."

Meeting that expectation has become quite the challenge, though.

Cody entered the season battling to regain his starting job, and among a batch of young defensive players the Ravens need to live up to their lofty draft status.

For a suddenly downtrodden defense rendered even more vulnerable with inspirational leader and middle linebacker Ray Lewis and shutdown cornerback Lardarius Webb on injured reserve, that need has become even more urgent.

Whether it's because of a talent drain, slow development or a serious accident, the reigning AFC North champions' young defensive reinforcements haven't come close to achieving the success of their traditional stingy predecessors.

The Ravens have fallen to 28th in total defense, struggling mightily through seven games. And they haven't drafted a Pro Bowl defensive player since landing gifted defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in the first round of the 2006 NFL draft.

It's not as if general manager Ozzie Newsome doesn't know how to acquire defensive talent, having drafted three NFL Defensive Players of the Year in Lewis, free safety Ed Reed and outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and three other Pro Bowl selections in his 17 drafts.

Over the last five drafts, though, Webb, a third-round discovery out of tiny Nicholls State (La.), is the only high Ravens defensive draft pick to emerge as an impact player.

"It's not up to the typical Ozzie standards," said Russ Lande, a former NFL scout and current draft analyst, told The Baltimore Sun. "When you have a few down years, it jumps out. Ozzie has the knack. I think he's the best there is at identifying talent.

"The reality is once you get out of the first round, the success rate falls dramatically. It happens to everyone, but it's more glaring when it happens in Baltimore because of the success they've had. These things happen in cycles."

While the defense hasn't been replenished despite devoting seven draft picks in the first three rounds over the past five drafts, the Ravens have definitely bolstered their offense.

They've hit on quarterback Joe Flacco, running back Ray Rice, wide receiver Torrey Smith and starting offensive tackles Michael Oher and Kelechi Osemele. All five players were first-or second-round draft picks.

"This is a guess, but I wonder if they said, 'We have no real stars on offense,' and we'll build around superstars Ngata, Suggs, Lewis and Reed, with mid to late-round picks and focus on offense," Lande said. "They've got great talent on offense, and now it's time to rebuild the defense. And they've got the scouting department to do that.

"Unless their young guys perform better or Terrell Suggs gets fully healthy, this defense isn't going to be what it was. It could be a year of hoping and praying and using duct tape on defense."

However, Newsome refuted the notion that the Ravens had concentrated on offense to the detriment of the defense.

"We've drafted defensive players," he said. "We still just draft the best players on the board."

Other than Webb before he got hurt against the Dallas Cowboys on Oct. 14, the contributions of the Ravens' recent first-round to third-round draft picks on defense has been modest.

Newsome remains a big believer in his adage of patience that players will improve with time and tutelage from coach John Harbaugh.

"The thing about drafting players is they have to be developed," Newsome said. "I think John and his staff do a very good job of developing our players, getting them on the field and in the right situations and not getting them overwhelmed. It's one thing to draft the players, but the coaches are heavily involved in drafting them and also developing them."

 Former first-round cornerback Jimmy Smith became a starter this season only due to Webb's knee injury and has proven susceptible to double-move patterns. Big, strong and fast at 6-foot-2, 210 pounds, Smith has no interceptions this season and has been picked on at times.

"I have the first-round tag obviously, so that means I'm supposed to be the best right away, but everybody has their own path," Smith said. "I feel like I'm making good progress. I don't know what everybody else thinks. I know everybody tries to uphold the tradition of the Ravens' defense."

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