Around The League 7/10

There were no Jevon Kearse's in free agency this year, so needy teams were a bit more creative in revamping their defenses. Two of the biggest names on the free agent market -- cornerback Ty Law and linebacker Peter Boulware -- are still available because of injury concerns.

Free agent such as linebackers Ed Hartwell (Atlanta) and Antonio Pierce (Giants) and cornerback Ken Lucas (Carolina) could prove to be difference-makers, but TRULY desperate teams went a rare rout in the NFL -- the trade.

Few teams were in more dire need of a defensive overhaul than Oakland and Kansas City. The Raiders finished 30th in total defense last season and the Chiefs 31st, and both were ranked in the bottom four in scoring defense, each allowing more than 27 points per game.

The Chiefs used the free agency route to improve their overall talent, signing linebacker Kendrell Bell, end Carlos Hall and safety Sammy Knight, and used a first-round pick on linebacker Derrick Johnson. But it was the second-round draft pick they sent to Miami in exchange for top-level cornerback Patrick Surtain that was their biggest splash of the offseason.

The Raiders failed to land much in free agency outside of end Derrick Burgess, and then used the trade rout to shuttle a pair of former first-round draft picks out of town in cornerback Phillip Buchanon and linebacker Napoleon Harris. Perhaps the theory of addition by subtraction will serve the Raiders well as Buchanon was a headache in the locker room and Harris had become an injury-prone underachiever in the eyes of many.

The Raiders have opted to go the speed route, using their first two draft picks on cornerbacks Fabian Washington and Stanford Routt. But Oakland is pinning its hopes on a second year under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan making the players more comfortable and a big free agent season from cornerback Charles Woodson.

"Teams that think they know what the Raider defense is all about (based on last year) have got a big surprise coming," said Stuart Schweigert, who is expected to take over for Ray Buchanan at free safety. "We know what we're doing now. Last year, we didn't."

And really, the Raiders defense shouldn't need to be more than decent, considering they expect to score points by the truckload with wide receiver Randy Moss and running back LaMont Jordan joining an already explosive offense.


The biggest change to the Ravens' defense was switching philosophy rather than personnel.

While bringing back eight starters, new coordinator Rex Ryan announced he will primarily use the 46 defense, the same scheme his father Buddy Ryan made famous in the 1980s.

This style of defense is a highly pressurized one that relies on an eight-man front to stop the run -- which includes dropping strong safety Will Demps into the box -- and sophisticated blitzes to smother the pass.

By having the ends line up wide of the guards and the nose tackle occupying the center, it virtually eliminates any double teams. And with three linebackers stacking the line, offenses didn't know who was covering and who was charging.

"We're going to pressure more than we've ever done in the past," Ryan said. "Everyone in the league will come in with the same mind-set: `Oh shoot, here they come.' We are not going to disappoint them."

Last season in the 3-4 defense, offenses frequently were able to get free blockers on middle linebacker Ray Lewis. But the 46 defense is designed to allow Lewis to once again become the league's dominant defensive player.

"He's the most explosive athlete in the league," Ryan said. "We want him to be the run-hit guy. We want him getting to the ball."

The Ravens return the core of last season's No. 6 overall defense. They needed to replace one starter on the line, at linebacker and in the secondary.

The most significant upgrade was signing Samari Rolle, a salary cap cut by the Tennessee Titans, to replace Gary Baxter. Although he doesn't have Baxter's size, Rolle is considered a more pure cover guy.

"When I think about the great defenses that have been in this league, they've always had two guys who could cover on the outside," general manager Ozzie Newsome said. "I think right now, we could take our tandem of Samari and Chris McAlister and match it up against anybody in the league."

The Ravens took a step back at linebacker, where they lost a strong run stopper in Ed Hartwell and gained a more finesse player in Tommy Polley.

On the defensive line, Maake Kemoeatu inherits the starting spot of Marques Douglas, giving the Ravens a big cog in the middle. Some coaches said Kemoeatu uses size and leverage up front in a similar manner to former Ravens tackle Tony Siragusa.

"It's going to be an interesting marriage with what (Ryan) plans philosophically with a very unique, elite group of physical talent," coach Brian Billick said. "We're going to do some things you haven't seen in this league in a long time."


--Will Demps has a new role in the Ravens' new 46 defense.

After primarily playing free safety for most of his career, he is switching to strong safety, a position that has a different responsibility in this new scheme. He will often drop into the box and act as a linebacker, lining up alongside Ray Lewis as a five-man defensive line attacks the opposing quarterback.

"I love it, getting your hands dirty, getting in the box," Demps said. "It allows other guys to do other things, make plays."

--The Ravens have installed a new field surface to their practice fields, laying down Patriot Bermuda grass. It is believed that they are the first NFL team to use such a grass on their practice fields.





--K Wade Richey probably won't be coming back after inconsistency on kickoffs led him to being inactive for parts of the season.

--LB T.J. Slaughter would seem to fit into the Ravens' plans as a starter at inside linebacker next season.

--QB Kordell Stewart could come back as the No. 3 quarterback if he doesn't receive offers to be the top backup elsewhere.




--FS Will Demps: RFA; $1.43M/1 yr.

--TE Darnell Dinkins: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.

--WR Randy Hymes: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.

--TE Terry Jones: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.

--NT Ma'ake Kemoeatu: RFA; $1.43M/1 yr.

--LS Joe Maese: UFA; $1.185M/2 yrs, $100,000 SB.

--OG Brian Rimpf: ERFA; $230,000/1 yr.

--RB Chester Taylor: RFA/matched Browns offer; $3/1 yr, $1M SB.

--TE Daniel Wilcox: ERFA; $380,000/1 yr.

--RB/KR B.J. Sams: ERFA; $305,000/1 yr.

--CB Deion Sanders: UFA; $1.5M/1 yr.

--S Chad Williams: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.

--P Dave Zastudil: RFA; $656,000/1 yr.

--DT Matt Zielinski: ERFA; $305,000/1 yr.


--WR Pat Johnson: FA; terms unknown.

--WR Derrick Mason: FA Titans; $20M/5 yrs, $7M SB.

--LB Jim Nelson: UFA Colts; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--LB Tommy Polley: UFA Rams; 1 yr, terms unknown.

--CB Samari Rolle: FA Titans; $30.5M/6 yrs, $11M SB.

--OG Keydrick Vincent: UFA Steelers; $4.64M/3 yrs, $1.25M SB.


--OG Bennie Anderson: UFA Vikings; $5.1M/3 yrs $1.5M SB.

--CB Gary Baxter: UFA Browns; $30.5M/6 yrs, $10.5M SB.

--LB Peter Boulware (released).

--OT Ethan Brooks: UFA Jets; terms unknown.

--LB Cornell Brown (failed physical).

--DE Marques Douglas: UFA 49ers; $4.5M/3 yrs, SB unknown.

--DB Corey Fuller (released).

--LB Ed Hartwell: UFA Falcons; $26.25M/6 yrs, $8M bonuses.

--WR Kevin Johnson (released).

--FB Harold Morrow (released).

--C Casey Rabach: UFA Redskins; $13.75/5 yrs, $2.5M SB.

--WR Travis Taylor: UFA Vikings; $2M/2 yrs, SB unknown.

--CB Ray Walls: UFA Cardinals; terms unknown.

--RB Jamel White: UFA Lions; terms unknown.


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