Who Replaces Ravens' Free-Agent Departures?
By Joe Platania
A full quarter-century after the NFL had to turn to replacement players to fill in for those that were on strike, the Ravens find themselves having to do so again.
That certainly doesn't mean that labor strife is about to take over the league for a second time in as many years. Those concerns were put to bed with the new collective bargaining agreement.
But this time around, the Ravens -- having suffered the yearly drain of free-agent talent -- are going to have to replace players that were lost in order to maintain their status as a perennial playoff contender.
Because there is no lockout to disrupt the offseason calendar, the team will have more time than it had last year to replace departed starters and key contributors, such as guard Ben Grubbs, linebacker Jarret Johnson and safeties Haruki Nakamura and Tom Zbikowski.
Last month, there was a look at those young players already on the roster that could be poised to take a step forward and become a part of the team's future nucleus, just as tight end Dennis Pitta, cornerback Lardarius Webb and nose tackle Terrence Cody, among others, did in 2011.
In this issue, there is a slightly different approach. The key question is: which players on the roster can step up and replace the team's free-agent losses? Here is a quintet of candidates:
OUT: Guard Ben Grubbs (New Orleans)
IN: Guard/tackle Jah Reid
Speculation that Reid, drafted to be a right tackle during the third round of the 2011 draft, would move to left guard began immediately after the Saints signed Grubbs. Coach John Harbaugh confirmed that Reid would get a chance to earn Grubbs' former spot, but many doubt that at 6-foot-7, 335 pounds and with little experience at the position, Reid could be thrown into the fire to protect Joe Flacco and open holes for Ray Rice.
The likely scenario is for the Ravens to draft an interior guard/center type during the first round -- Wisconsin's Peter Konz, perhaps? -- and put him there while Reid continues to learn away from the spotlight.
OUT: Linebacker Jarret Johnson (San Diego)
IN: Linebacker Paul Kruger
|Paul Kruger and Jarret Johnson
The "Sam" (strong-side) linebacker spot is important to the Ravens' pass rush, because it's the player that must beat both tight ends and tackles on the way to the quarterback. Kruger has proven in limited duty that he can pressure quarterbacks and occasionally knock the ball loose, but it was in run defense that Johnson was especially valuable.
Kruger is 6-foot-4 and 265 pounds, an inch taller than Johnson and 5 pounds heavier, but he hasn't shown Johnson's strength when setting the edge. Kruger has been listed as Terrell Suggs' backup at "Will" (weak-side), but the way the Ravens like to disguise things, he'll get time on both sides.
OUT: Defensive end Cory Redding (Indianapolis)
IN: Defensive end Michael McAdoo
McAdoo and running back Damien Berry were the only players on the season-ending roster born during the 1990s.
McAdoo, a 6-foot-7, 245-pounder, left the University of North Carolina after its off-field problems made him academically ineligible, and he made the Ravens' active roster before being put on injured reserve (knee). He is fast around the edge and put plenty of pressure on opposing quarterbacks in college, even though he didn't record many sacks.
OUT: Cornerback Chris Carr (Minnesota)
IN: Cornerback Danny Gorrer
As the NFL becomes more pass-happy, teams are deploying three- and four-wide receiver sets on most, if not all, downs. The AFC North is no exception, even though Cleveland has yet to catch up with the rest of its competition.
Still, nickel- and dime-package corners are needed, and Gorrer brings a 6-foot, 185-pound frame and above-average closing speed to the position. He won't be out-muscled by bigger receivers, as Carr sometimes was, and he can stay with someone in space, even if that receiver comes out of the slot.
OUT: Safeties Haruki Nakamura/Tom Zbikowski (Carolina, Indianapolis)
IN: Safeties Corey Graham/Sean Considine
Depth at safety has been a void this offseason, but so has special-teams help. Graham, an accomplished gunner on the Chicago Bears' punt coverage team, can also play a number of roles in the secondary, and Considine can do the same, while being a bit stronger at safety.
Plus, with the experience in the league that this pair already has -- not to mention Graham's recent Pro Bowl berth -- there is enough quantity and quality to help the Ravens make a strong rebound with a consistent, omnipresent group of special-teams players, a trait the team didn't have last year.
Issue 172: April 2012