OWINGS MILLS, Md. – Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees understands the potential problems that come with rebuilding a unit that replaced seven starters from the team that won the Super Bowl last February.
Fortunately, Pees is a patient man.
Pees believes the Ravens’ new-look defense will excel after it corrects some of the flaws that often occur at this stage of training camp. Baltimore has played only one preseason game, a 44-16 rout of Tampa Bay last week, so there’s plenty of time to get things right.
“Overall, I like our effort and I like the way we’re coming around,” Pees said Monday. “It was a pretty simple game plan the first game, and we’ll keep adding to it as we go. I like the way we’re working, but we’ve got a long way to go.”
Six of the Ravens’ top eight tacklers in last season’s playoffs are gone. The list includes Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, Bernard Pollard, Cary Williams and Paul Kruger.
Newcomers Chris Canty, Elvis Dumervil, Daryl Smith and Michael Huff are among those who intend to help the Ravens improve a defense that last season finally took a back seat to the offense after years of dominance.
“Everybody that we have brought in as a free agent, I’ve been absolutely very pleased with as far as professionalism, learning the system, buying into the system,” Pees said. “That’s half the battle. If you get a guy in here who thinks, ‘That’s not like the old system I had’ and all that, it doesn’t work. These guys are nothing like that. They’ve bought into what we want them to do and they’re competing. I really don’t think it’s been difficult at all. We just have to work through communication issues.”
Without naming names, Pees said a communication breakdown led to Tampa Bay’s biggest play of the game, a 61-yard completion from Mike Glennon to Tom Crabtree. On the positive side, Daryl Smith did a pretty good imitation of Ray Lewis at middle linebacker, notching a team-high five tackles and knocking away a pass. Josh Bynes also showed promise at inside linebacker, and Canty got a sack.
With Lewis, Reed and some of the other longtime starters gone, the competition for playing time is fierce, most notably in the backfield. Cornerback Cary Williams left for Philadelphia, Reed and Pollard are also elsewhere and Lardarius Webb is working his way back from a knee injury.
That means Jimmy Smith, Corey Graham, Chykie Brown and even rookie Matt Elam are vying to be part of the mix.
“The competitiveness of everybody, the way everybody is working hard to come together as a team, it’s a great feeling,” Elam said.
Dumervil should have plenty of opportunity to get to the quarterback, but he can also expect to share time with Courney Upshaw on the outside opposite Terrell Suggs.
“It’s exciting, man. The more the competition, the better the team is,” said Dumervil, who excelled in Denver before signing as a free agent. “The organization did a good job getting guys together who want to win and compete. In this league, the more depth, the better you are. We’re two deep and strong, and that’s going to go a long way for us.”
Not necessarily immediately, but eventually. The Ravens hope a few more hard weeks of work will pay off in the season opener at Denver on Sept. 5.
“It’s work. It’s a professional game,” Dumervil said. “You’ve got to study and work hard. It doesn’t happen overnight but you’ve got to heading in the right direction, and I think we’re doing that.”