Click here for last week's article on the offense.

"> Click here for last week's article on the offense.

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Baltimore Ravens Off-Season Overview: Defense

<br><i>In a series of articles found only here on Ravens Insider, site staff member Dev Panchwagh looks at what the Ravens need to do in the off season.&nbsp; Today he deals in detail with the defense. <a href="http://ravens.theinsiders.com/2/224584.html">Click here</a> for last week's article on the offense.</i><br><br>

Cap Status: $24 million under

Draft Status: Seven picks in rounds two, three, four, five, six, seven and another pick from Jacksonville in either the sixth or seventh round. There is also a chance that the Ravens could receive a couple of compensatory picks. Baltimore has the same record (10-6) as four other teams, so its pick will rotate each round. The positions are unknown as of now.

Total Free agents (unrestricted, restricted, exclusive rights): 25

Defensive Line: Marques Douglas is the only starter not under contract for next year, while Riddick Parker, an underappreciated backup, is also an unrestricted free agent. 

What needs to be done for Improvement: This was easily the hardest working unit on the entire team a year ago. The three-man line, otherwise known as the "buddy lee" group, proved a lot of doubters wrong by playing stout defense against the run, and by getting after the passer with more consistency than anticipated. 

Anthony Weaver and Kelly Gregg are entrenched at their starting positions. Weaver is a rock solid 3-4 end who has the quickness to shoot the gap inside and the strength to overpower tackles off the edge. 

Gregg is an overachiever who plays the nose guard position the way it's meant to be played. Although he's not the biggest tackle, Gregg is tough to move because he keeps his pad level low, uses his hands well, and has the motor to keeping fighting blockers. 

The other end position was manned by Marques Douglas, who became a full-time starter for the first time in his career. Douglas isn't the stoutest player, but he has surprising quickness and instincts, which enabled him to make a number of stops behind the line of scrimmage last year. Although Douglas had a solid season, there is a decent chance that if he's re-signed, he will be brought back to become more of a rotational player because he lacks the size to hold up on every down. 

The Ravens could look to replace Douglas with first year player Jarret Johnson, who received a lot of snaps last year. At 270-pounds or so, Johnson lacks ideal size and strength but he's agile, quick off the snap and has a non-stop motor. 

Another option to improve the depth at the defensive end position is to bring in a free agent like Robaire Smith, Cornelius Griffin or Gary Walker. Out of this group, only Walker has the experience of playing the DE position in a 3-4 scheme, but Smith and Griffin have the ideal physical dimensions to make a seamless transition. 
Aside from improving the depth at the outside positions, the Ravens could also use another wide body to plug two gaps in third-and-short and goaline situations. The primary backup at the NT position, Maake Kemoeatu, has the ideal size at 330-pounds to demand a double team, but he seems to lack the technique to be a consistent force. 

Linebacker: Adalius Thomas is the marquee free agent out of this group. Ed Hartwell is a restricted free agent who should attract some attention. Look for the Ravens to offer Hartwell a middle or high tender. 

What needs to be done for Improvement: The Ravens don't need to tinker much with this position, as it's already the strongest unit on the team. It just needs to retain a key a player in Adalius Thomas, and add one more solid backup at the ILB or OLB spot. 

Bringing back Thomas won't be that easy. Thomas should attract some attention on the open market, because he's a 260-pound player that has quickness, straight line speed, a long wingspan, and the ability to drop into coverage. Plus, he is versatile enough to line up at three positions: DE, DT and OLB.

However, although Thomas' versatility is his greatest strength, it could also prove to be a weakness when teams look to make him a permanent starter at a certain position. 

If one of these teams decides that Thomas is a good enough player to command a deal worth $3 million per year or more, than it's doubtful that the Ravens would come close to matching that offer. The Ravens want Thomas back, but at a reasonable price. 

If Thomas leaves, the team will have to hope that defensive rookie of the year Terrell Suggs can assimilate his position as the full-time outside backer. Suggs' strength is getting after the quarterback—he led the team in sacks last year. Although he lacks tremendous speed, Suggs is quick off the snap, has nice power and moves to keeping offensive tackles off balance. Still, Suggs has shown almost no ability to drop into coverage, and he's inconsistent against the run.

Backing up Suggs is Cornell Brown, who is a solid run stopper, but lacks the speed to cover in space. Whether or not Thomas returns, the Ravens have to draft or sign another outside linebacker who has dependable coverage skills. 

On the inside, the Ravens have two great starters in Ray Lewis, the best defensive player in the game today, and Ed Hartwell, who is the ideal crash guy that can take on blockers. Bart Scott will return as the main backup to Lewis and Hartwell, but don't overlook T.J. Slaughter, who was signed to a two-year deal during the season. Slaughter was a starter with Jacksonville before this season and is a physical, in the box player. 

Secondary: Aside from reserve corner Tom Knight, everyone else should be back. Chris McAlister is an unrestricted free agent, but he will either be franchised or given a long-term extension. 

What needs to be done for Improvement: This may be the group with the biggest upside on the team. All four of the Ravens' projected defensive backs are 26-years old or younger. Chris McAlister and Ed Reed received Pro Bowl berths this year, while Gary Baxter played well enough at the corner position during the second half of the season to get some consideration, and Will Demps provided steady play at the free safety spot.

When these four players started, the secondary was almost unbreakable, giving up little yardage and big plays against explosive passing attacks from St. Louis, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Tennessee. 

Out of this group, McAlister may have stepped up the most, proving that he is indeed a shutdown corner. McAlister didn't give up 100-yards or a touchdown against top notch receivers like Torry Holt, Rod Smith, Jimmy Smith, Terrell Owens, Chris Chambers, Chad Johnson and Derrick Mason last season.

With Baxter and McAlister manning the outside spots, the Ravens have big, physical corners that can play bump-and-run coverage, and have the speed to trail the opposing receiver. 

The third cornerback is Corey Fuller, who played well after losing his starting job to Baxter. Fuller has lost a couple of steps, but he has enough savvy to hold his own against opposing slot receivers.

At safety, Reed is a ball-hawk with great instincts, and without any glaring weaknesses. The spot opposite of Reed seems to be in Demps' hands, although he may face competition for his job from Fuller, if he decides to switch positions. 

Chad Williams and Gerome Sapp provide great depth behind Reed and Demps. Williams plays in the dime package as the fourth corner. Williams played well in this role, because he has great speed and strength to keep up with receivers or tight ends. 

Sapp has the physical tools to become a starter on the strongside, but he needs time to hone his technique. 

The only question mark with this unit is which player will take over the fourth cornerback position. Tom Knight seemed to be a solid option, but he couldn't stay healthy for the past two seasons. The Ravens could take a chance on him again, but the better move would be to draft a corner with the upside to take over for Fuller in the near future.


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