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Positional Review Preview: Linebacker

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2008 Review:

As you browse about each position on the Baltimore Ravens its hard to argue that their biggest position of strength over the years and during this past season  was the linebacking unit.

It begins with Ray Lewis, face of the franchise since he arrived in 1996 with the team he posted a solid campiagn in 2008 and for the first time since 2003 played an entire season free from injury. Lewis’ numbers were very good (117 Total tackles, 84 solo, 3 1/2 sacks, 3 interceptions and 2 forced fumbles) as he continued to use superior preparation in diagnosing tendencies and always being around the ball.

Some writers suggested that Lewis tired towards the end of the season and into the playoffs but the numbers don’t support it as he posted 29 total tackles in the three playoff games and forced two fumbles.

Terrell Suggs continued his evolution into more than just a pass rusher this season. He was shifted from the linebacker position to a hand in the dirt player and did whatever Rex Ryan wanted to do with him. He led the team with 8 sacks but showed his ability to play in big games as well notching 4 sacks during the 3 playoff games and two against Pittsburgh playing on one shoulder. His ability to read the quarterback also led to  two interceptions that he took back for scores.

Bart Scott has been a fixture at the outside linebacker spot since 2005 and once again was the second leading tackler on the defense. (82 TOT, 61 solo) His role has changed over the years along with his sack totals as he went from a career high 9.5 in 2006 to only 1 1/2. Still he was a ferocious hitter and never was shy when a mic was nearby.

Jarret Johnson continued his slow climb to respectable starter with a season that matched last year’s breakout for him. (56 TOT, 44 solo, 2 F Fumb and 4 sacks) Johnson displayed fine athleticism in particular in the Philadelphia game as he snuck past his defender and snatched the ball from Donovan McNabb’s hands. He’s a player some were unsure if he would become a starterone day and has proven plenty wrong.

Rookie Jameel McClain was another success story in 2008. Undrafted he was picked up by the Ravens and had a knack for Special teams and rushing the passer.

While fellow rookie, 3rd round pick Tavares Gooden had a tougher way to go and only appeared in 4 games before being forced to IR. Another player that hasn’t played up to expectations was Antwan Barnes. The team thought they had a steal in the 2007 draft with his selection but its unsure if his focus is there during practices.

The Ravens also bolstered their Special Teams by signing Brendan Ayanbedejo. Even though he appeared little on the defense he sparkled on Special Teams and received a Pro Bowl berth for his efforts.

2009 Preview:

Most teams have to deal with the possibility of losing players and in the age of the cap you can never retain everyone. But Baltimore fans had plenty to think about as Suggs, Lewis and Scott’s contracts were all up for 2009.

The Suggs solution was simple. Use the Franchise Tag for the second time him and hope to work out a deal by July 15th. The date looms closer but recently Suggs seemed confident that the deal would be consumated. Rumor has his deal hovering near Jared Allen level but who knows for sure. Getting Suggs locked up would really help if they wanted to go after other players.

Suggs will continue to be moved all around the formations and I would expect a double digit sack total from him. He really came on strong during the playoff run and at 26 still has many years ahead of him.

So when it came down to Scott or Lewis the answer was clear. The Jets and Rex Ryan wanted a younger player who knew the defense to be the center piece. Scott fit the bill and the Ravens never had a chance to retain him.

Lewis hit the open market hopeful that he’d get an offer. He didn’t and he will complete his career in Baltimore.

One of the biggest concerns with Lewis was age and his ability to stay injury free for the whole season. He did that in 2008 and the hope is that he will continue his good fortune and stellar play in the middle.

Replacing Scott will be the biggest question and first up is fellow “U” graduate, Gooden. He has the right mindset and attacks the ball carrier but his health is an issue. If Gooden doesn’t work out you have McClain or perhaps draftee Paul Kruger who could be moved back and forth from the line as well.

Jarrett Johnson should continue playing a capable outside linebacker with his steady numbers. But depth is always a question. Will Barnes finally fufill his promise? He should be pushed by tackling machine, Jason Phillips out of TCU or maybe second year man Prescott Burgess.

What ever happens with the personnel seems irrelevant as Baltimore should once again have one of the league’s best Linebacking groups.


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