There’s a common saying in the downtrodden and hard-luck city of Baltimore, Md. A saying that is practically gospel in Bird Country: “Trust In Ozzie.” This is a saying Baltimore Ravens fans constantly remind other Ravens fans when they’re feeling uncertain about the direction of the franchise.
Always should they trust in the legendary Ozzie Newsome, the Hall of Fame General Manager of the Ravens. This saying comes with good reason, as Newsome has proven himself a visionary when it comes to draft day (his first draft alone produced Ray Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, not too shabby), and has assembled two Super Bowl-winning rosters in Baltimore the last 13 years.
Newsome’s genius will be tested again after this upcoming season, when the Ravens defensive backfield is going to have to be seriously re-evaluated.
The Ravens, on paper, have a very solid two-deep in the secondary. Cornerback Lardarius Webb and safety Michael Huff are former pro-bowlers. Cornerbacks Jimmy Smith and Chykie Brown and rookie safety Matt Elam are young players who’ve had strong camps. No problem, right?
Webb is a true No. 1 corner, when healthy. The only problem is he’s coming off a torn ACL, and no one is really sure if he’ll be the same player he was when he signed that six-year contract extension last spring. CB Corey Graham, who was a starter in the Super Bowl just a few short months ago, is entering the last year of his two-year contract, and it’s highly unlikely the Ravens will give him the kind of money he’s going to be asking for. Smith and Brown are still unproven. Yes, they’ve had strong camps, but the regular season is a different animal altogether. Smith, especially as a former first rounder, will be counted on for major strides this season, and it’s yet to be seen.
Huff is a weak-leak at FS. He’s only had one strong year in his career (2010), and that was when he was angling for a new contract. Huff is a better option than backup Omar Brown, but this will clearly become a hole next offseason. Elam, who looks every bit the thumper he was at Florida, will eventually beat out James Ihedigbo for the strong safety spot, but that’s just about the only sure thing past this season.
All in all, past the 2013 season, free safety and cornerback depth will absolutely be a cause for concern. Luckily, the 2014 NFL Draft will be pretty deep when it comes to talent in the secondary. Let’s give the champs the benefit of the doubt and assume they make the playoffs for the sixth-straight year, and will have a later pick in the rounds. They’ll still be in position for several key prospects who could come in and make an impact right away, similar to the way Elam looks this year.
Ha Ha Clinton Dix (Alabama) fits the bill of what the Ravens are looking for in a ball-hawking free safety. Ed Reynolds (Stanford), C.J. Barnett (Ohio State) and Tre Boston (UNC) all could be in the mix too depending on how strong their 2013 seasons go. A dark horse could be Tevin McDonald (Eastern Washington), an incredible talent, but his off-the-field issues will more than likely drop his stock.
Cornerbacks will be very deep in this class, giving the Ravens a ton of options in both early and later rounds. Loucheiz Purifoy (Florida) would be the best fit in Baltimore, given his versatility to play both safety and corner, and is reminiscent of Webb coming out of Nicholls State in 2009. Plus, Purifoy has the added benefit of having already played with Elam. Ifo Ekpre-Olomu (Oregon), Jason Verrett (TCU) and Aaron Colvin (Oklahoma) will also be eyeing first-round status.
Look, the bottom line is the Ravens will once again be strong this year. The secondary, which I feel is the weak link of the defense this year, will have to be re-vamped after this season. A lot is unknown due to injuries and inexperience, and many contracts will be looked at again after this year, regardless of play on the field.
The 2014 NFL Draft will present ample opportunities for Newsome to once again prove his genius, and he’ll need it to help stabilize the defensive backfield. Should Ravens fans worry about the future of the secondary? Nah. As the saying goes “Trust In Ozzie.”