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Amidst the hubbub over the significant turnover that could occur along the offensive line, the Ravens have another key position that could look drastically different next year.
That’s at linebacker – a place of great strength in Baltimore for more than a past decade.
Outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, inside linebackers Jameel McClain and Brendon Ayanbadejo and linebacker/special teams contributor Edgar Jones are all unrestricted free agents. Danelle Ellerbe is a restricted free agent, but is expected to return.
One such player could be inside linebacker McClain, who started all 16 games last season and filled in admirably when Ray Lewis missed four games due to a toe injury.
The former undrafted rookie in 2008 finished second on the team behind Lewis with 81 tackles this season. He added one sack, one interception and two fumble recoveries.
“I hope that I got a chance to show people what I could do,” McClain said the day after the AFC championship loss.
“I hope I got the opportunity to showcase some of my abilities. It was good, because I got a chance to do a little bit more, and every season that’s what’s always happened with me. I did more than I did the last year, and did more and did more. So, I just hope I can keep going on it.”
McClain wasn’t directly asked whether he expects to be back next season.
But he spoke as if he would be back in purple and black. McClain was thrilled to hear Lewis declare immediately after the crushing loss in New England that he would return.
“Having Ray back will be phenomenal,” McClain said. “He’s the best that’s ever done this, he’s a great guy to learn from, and I’ve had a wonderful time learning from him. And, he’s helped me develop into the player that I am. So, I’ll be blessed if I’m still here learning from him again.”
Ayanbadejo tweeted that he’d like to also be back in Baltimore. The 35-year-old linebacker said it won’t take a lot to bring him back, but that he’s not giving a discount either.
If McClain and/or Ayanbadejo don’t return, the Ravens have inside Ellerbe. The former 2009 undrafted free agent is expected to receive a tender.
Plagued by injuries throughout the year, Ellerbe played in nine games and started three. He finished with 17 tackles, and played a major role in the AFC championship game. Baltimore often assigned him, instead of McClain, to cover tight end Rob Gronkowski.
With Lewis in the middle, Baltimore has survived many linebacker departures before – from Bart Scott to Adalius Thomas, Ed Hartwell, Jamie Sharper and more.
The Ravens could have to overcome that again, but would rather not.
In any case, they would be led by new defensive coordinator Dean Pees, who oversaw the linebacker corps last season. Ted Monachino, who focused on the outside linebackers last year, is now in charge of the entire group.