Training Camp Postcard: Ravens
Posted: Thursday August 2, 2007 4:55PM; Updated: Thursday August 2, 2007 11:34PM
At McDaniel College in Westminster, Md., where it was already sweltering at 10 a.m. on Thursday, early in the Ravens' full-pads, full-contact morning practice.
The Ravens had their most physical workout of training camp thus far, in order to get some intensity established for their scrimmage against the Redskins on Saturday in Baltimore. The hitting was so spirited that the predictable mid-practice fight broke out, this one between linebacker Jarret Johnson and tight end Marcus Freeman. As NFL fans know, when the Ravens decide to hit, they don't fool around.
1. Folks are wondering if Baltimore's top-ranked defense can replace All-Pro outside linebacker Adalius Thomas, who signed a big deal with New England in free agency. Thomas was talented and versatile, and his absence isn't to be taken lightly. But when has the Ravens defense ever lost a starting cog and not kept the train moving? It survived nicely the departures of key players such as Jamie Sharper, Duane Starks, Edgerton Hartwell, Sam Adams, Rod Woodson and Tony Siragusa over the years, and still maintained its smash-mouth defensive identity.
Thomas's role is expected to be filled by fifth-year veteran Jarret Johnson, who isn't exactly a novice. According to Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan -- who's one of the best in the business at making-do with what he has on hand -- Johnson played about 67 percent of the team's defensive snaps last season. And like Thomas, Johnson is a converted defensive end who can play both inside and outside linebacker, as well as with his hand on the ground at end. "It's not like we're getting a new player,'' Ryan said. "He knows what we're doing out there.''
Funny, but those big-name free agents who leave Baltimore's defense never seem to match their successes elsewhere. I happen to think Thomas may break that streak, but I also don't think Baltimore will miss more than one-half beat with Johnson in the lineup.
2. Here's how much Ryan continues to think outside the box when it comes to how he uses his defenders: Baltimore this week has lined up the 6-foot-4, 340-pound defensive tackle Haloti Ngata at inside linebacker on some snaps, blitzing him in a running of the bulls-type exercise. Ryan just smiled coyly when I asked him about his newest innovation in versatility on Thursday, saying he was just trying "to stay ahead of the league.'' But then he added: "If you're the other team, I don't know if you want a 360-pound guy running full-speed untouched into your quarterback from 10 to 15 yards away. That's probably not too good for your quarterback's health.''