Unheralded Positions of Strength

D-line, cornerback and wideout could be the Ravens’ deepest positions despite critics.

Posted by Mike Duffy on Thursday, July 14th, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Categories: Mike Duffy

In the endless roster scrutiny the NFL lockout brought this offseason, three positions have been consistently raised as areas of need for the Ravens: corner, defensive line and widout.
However, after further inspection, they could actually be areas of depth for Baltimore.
Leading up to the draft, pundits said the Ravens needed to get younger and faster at receiver, with Anquan Boldin and Derrick Mason both in their 30s – and Mason hinting at a close retirement.  Reports have also speculated that free agents T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Donte’ Stallworth won’t be back next year.
But don’t think the Ravens are thin at wideout. 
Boldin and Mason can still be relied upon for consistent production, and Baltimore addressed the position through the draft with the selection of Maryland speedster Torrey Smith and the sure-handed Tandon Doss. Smith, a second-round pick, figures to pitch in right away as the Ravens’ third pass-catcher, while Doss is expected to ease his way onto the field first as a special teamer.
The Ravens also signed 25-year-old James Hardy to a reserve/futures contract in March, and the 6-foot-5 former Buffalo Bill has an opportunity to prove he was worth a second-round draft pick.  In addition, 2010 draft pick David Reed is still on the roster and there is a healthy battle between Marcus Smith and Justin Harper looming.
As for cornerbacks, pundits questioned whether the Ravens could overcome losing Domonique Foxworth last year to a knee injury, especially with Fabian Washington and Lardarius Webb coming off knee injuries the previous season.  Instead, Chris Carr and Josh Wilson stepped up their game, and the Ravens excelled on the corners. Now, the question is whether the Ravens can re-sign at least one from among Carr, Wilson and Washington.
The Ravens already have solid depth with their current crop of corners, even without that trio. Foxworth is back by most accounts – including his own – and Webb is fully healthy. Behind them, the Ravens have Cary Williams and fifth-round draft pick Chykie Brown.
The gem of this group could be first-rounder Jimmy Smith, whom many analysts rated as a top 10 talent.  Smith’s 6-foot-2 frame is rare for where he plays, and the Colorado product is both fast and tough.
Moving forward, the Ravens could solidify that spot for good with one more addition, perhaps a familiar name.
On the defensive line, Haloti Ngata rounded into one of the league’s best interior tackles, leading a front wall that is nearly impenetrable. With Kelly Gregg entering his 12th season, the Ravens have employed more of a rotation of other tackles, trotting out the up-and-coming Brandon McKinney and Terrence “Mount” Cody, as well.
That strategy succeeded last year.  The Ravens finished fifth-overall in run defense, marking the 15 straight season they have held opponents to under 4.0 yards per attempt.
The D-line unit could be even better in 2011.  Gregg remains effective, while the 349-pound Cody said he has been maintaining a healthy weight this offseason.  Typically, rookies take a step forward in their second season, which bodes well for Cody and fellow 2010 draftee Arthur Jones.

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