All the talk about the Ravens during the offseason was whether or not the Ravens defense can compete with the loss of Bart Scott, Jim Leonhard and Rex Ryan. But the Ravens aren’t done yet. Jon Gruden said it perfectly on Monday Night Football.
“The Baltimore Ravens don’t lose players, they just reload”
He was referring to the newcomers to the Ravens line-up. Everyone knows that superstars like Ed Reed, Ray Lewis, Terrell Suggs, and Haloti Ngata are some of the most dominant players at their positions. Everyone knows that consistent players such as Jarrett Johnson, Kelly Gregg, Dawan Landry, and Trevor Pryce will perform well.
But not everyone knows new players such as DE/LB Paul Kruger, LB Tavares Gooden, LB Jameel McClain, FS Haruki Nakamura, CB Lardarius Webb, and SS Tom Zbikowski.
Kruger, the second round draft pick from Utah, made an immediate impact for the Ravens. Against the Redskins, Kruger started in place of Terrell Suggs, recorded three tackles, and a sack. Against New York, he started again, and recorded five tackles and three pass deflections.
Gooden is a second year player out of Miami, who has filled in for Bart Scott, and is doing so quite well. Last year he played four games and recorded four tackles. He has taken the role as Ray Lewis’s understudy, and possibly a replacement for him when Lewis retires. Against Washington, he had five tackles, and against New York, he had five more tackles and a sack. That single sack was more than Scott’s total all year in 2008.
Jameel McClain is a budding superstar. Personally, I think he should have taken Scott’s place as the starter. Last year, McClain had 2 safeties, tying the NFL record for single season safeties. One was a blocked punt, the other was a sack. He recorded 2.5 sacks last year as well. Against Washington he had 8 tackles. Against New York, he had a career day, totaling 10 tackles, and an interception returned 16 yards for a touchdown.
Haruki Nakamura is another budding star. He recored 12 tackles and a pass deflection int he regular season. In the post season he had 1.5 sacks, two pass deflections, and broke three of Ben Roethlisberger’s ribs. In the 2009 preseason, he has recorded three tackles and two pass deflections.
Lardaruis Webb is a rookie out of Nicholls State. He is becoming more of a kick returner than a cornerback, but has recorded three tackles and a pass deflection in two preseason games.
Tom Zbikowski is another second year safety. Last year he returned kicks and played on special teams. This year he has made an impact as a strong safety. He recorded one sack, and two tackles against Washington, and had two tackles against the Jets.
All these players reinforce the Ravens defense, and they are already looking to be the best defense in the league. Ahead of the Steelers, Vikings and any other top defense from last year. As a matter of fact the defense could be better than the Raven’s 2000 team, making them the best of all time.
A bold prediction, but the way their starters performed against the Redskins and Jets, it could very well be true.
Sam Snyder is a regular contributor for Sports Then and Now. You can also read his work on Bleacher Report.