Off-Season Could Bring a Tougher 3-4 Front

It seems that the Ravens' renewal of the 3-4 defense isn't necessarily set in stone. The vagueness about which defensive front Baltimore will go with once the 2003 season gets under way, 3-4 or 4-3, has created a mini buzz for which fans can pontificate and speculate.

If you listen to the radio talk shows, a good majority of the fan base seem in favor of staying with the hybrid three man line, while others would like to see a switch back to the four man line so the Ravens can add another defensive tackle to fortify the interior rush defense.


When defensive coordinator Mike Nolan has been asked about whether he is going to stay with the 3-4 set, he has genuinely been non-committal about the subject. There have also been some rumors floating around that the Ravens would switch back to their 4-3 base front if they are able to re-sign mammoth defensive tackle Sam Adams.


But that's why rumors are just rumors. And don't let Mike Nolan's indecision dupe you; it would be foolish of him to just close off all of his options by sticking with one defense to run.

Baltimore will stay with a hybrid scheme and use a number of fronts just as they did a year ago in all likelihood, because Mike Nolan likes to utilize a flexible defense. Just take a look at his track record. He ran the 3-4 with the Giants and the Jets, and while he scaled back the defense with the Redskins by sticking to a four man front, he did so because his linebackers were mediocre in Washington. 


While there has been concern expressed over the team's ability to find a top notch nose guard and perhaps, a good defensive end to complete the face of the front line, the fans should ease up and give Nolan's scheme a second chance.

Last year's 3-4 defense was basically held together with duck tape and staples. There was only one legitimate pass rusher along the front seven for Nolan to count on in Peter Boulware, and he was regularly double teamed. The lineman up front, specifically Kelly Gregg and Adalius Thomas, were too light to hold up at their respective positions. As a result, offensive guards were free to pick up blitzing linebackers with ease, and the Ravens' contained pass rush became non existent after the first half of the season.


Thomas and Gregg's lack of size and inability to hold up at the point of attack also hampered the rush defense. Both players were routinely walled off, and running backs were free to rush off the edges, challenging inside backers Bernardo Harris and Edgerton Hartwell's ability to chase after them sideline-to-sideline.


It's sufficed to say that with a new line, the defensive engine could very well run on full tilt. You would think that defensive line coach Rex Ryan is lobbying for some big wide bodies to be brought in through the draft and free-agency. Ideally, the Ravens would need one 300-pounder with pretty good quickness and strength to anchor the end spot, where the defender usually lines up inside of the shoulders of the left tackle and the left guard.


A free-agent like Cletidus Hunt or William Joseph through the draft may fill a need. If Sam Adams were to lose around 20 pounds, and was indeed re-signed, he could be a nice fit at the end spot because he has the explosive first step to get past a double team. But considering his asking price probably won't whittle down much, if at all, his return may not be as much of a lock as most people would have you believe.  

At the nose guard position, Baltimore needs another Tony Siragusa type plugger to clog up the middle, take on the double team consistently inside the trenches, and to help open up gaps for the blitzing linebackers to split through. There are a decent number of big boys that will be out on the market who could play the nose, like Ted Washington, Norman Hand and Keith Traylor. If the Ravens would rather draft a prospect, they could look to bring in someone like Dewayne Robertson, Albert Means, Langston Moore or Bernard Riley and have that player work in a rotation along with Maake Kemoeatu.

As for Gregg and Thomas, they would move to backup roles and would give the Ravens two steady second-tier options along the line beside Marques Douglas and Joe Salave'a. All four players have the ability to play the end spots in short-term stints. In Thomas' case, he would be a much better fit at the end spot in the 4-3 front that the Ravens would deploy in third down situations.


With a deeper, larger and more talented group up front, the intricate blitz packages that Nolan used is small doses last season would open up like Red Sea, especially if the Ravens are able to add on

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