There was quite a bit of talk last season and during the off-season questioning the Ravens' defense and age. Countless blogs and articles brought up the question: Is the Ravens defense too old? The question mainly applies to the Ravens' two defensive mainstays, MIKE linebacker Ray Lewis and free safety Ed Reed. However heading out of preseason and into week one, a different question has arisen. Is the Ravens defense too inexperienced, even too young?
While the major concern for the Ravens is the pass rush, the line and secondary also will rely on players who are relatively young and have not been starters in the NFL. With the loss of Cory Redding in free agency, Arthur Jones, who is going into his third season and has recorded one start, will likely be a starting lineman. Pernell McPhee, didn't start in a game last year, his rookie year, and he will have to figure in on the line this year as well. Terrence Cody started all 16 games last year, but he certainly showed room for development.
The secondary is a bit more shored up, with veteran safeties Ed Reed and Bernard Pollard. However, at cornerback, starter Carey Williams enters his fifth year in the NFL with only 17 starts. He started 16 games last year and did not record an interception, and he didn't have particularly impressive preseason showings. Jimmy Smith, who was battling with Williams for the starting position is a second year player who was injured a portion of last year. Smith had three starts last year, and looked especially vulnerable against the big play in preseason.
The greatest area of concern for the Ravens defense heading into the 2012 season is undoubtedly the pass rush. Last year's defensive player of the year, Terrell Suggs is on the pup list with an Achilles tear and it is uncertain whether he will play at all this season. The Ravens lost long-time staple Jarrett Johnson to free agency, which leaves both outside linebacker positions to be occupied by new faces.
The Ravens hoped their top draft pick, Courtney Upshaw, would be able to factor in immediately, but thus far, he's not top of the depth chart at the strong side. That role with go to Albert McClellan, who has had one start in his only season in the NFL. Paul Kruger will take over the rush linebacker position. Kruger had a strong season last year, after not factoring in much his first two years, but he has only started in one game. In other words, the three top options at both outside linebacker spots have a total combined two starts.
The Ravens hope their untested defenders have enough talent to be the “next men up,” and time will tell. One thing is for sure though: the Ravens don't have the “aging” defense that is so frequently discussed. Ironically, their weakness may actually be the opposite.