Ozzie Newsome and the Baltimore Ravens front office went out of their way this offseason to make the team younger, particularly on defense. Some have criticized this move, arguing that it undermines veteran leadership. Others have praised it, pointing to its advantages, notably in speed For better or worse, many young players on the roster are being thrust into vital roles in 2013.
Matt Elam, 22, is the youngest player on the roster, and has one of the most important roles on the team. He is expected to immediately take over for the hard-hitting Bernard Pollard and eventually for the ball-hawking Ed Reed. While he is currently battling with James Ihedigbo for the starting job, it’s hard to imagine a first-round pick not being relied on in some manner.
Elam will also be expected to be a leader in a new group of youngsters on the defense. Where there was once Ray Lewis and Jarret Johnson, now there is Arthur Brown (23) and John Simon (22). Unlike Elam, Brown and Simon find themselves in positions that already boast impressive depth.
Jameel McClain and Daryl Smith are proven veterans with solid track records, and Josh Bynes (who is just 23 himself) is poised for a breakout sophomore season. McClain’s injury leaves the door open for Brown, though, who has turned heads in OTAs and training camp. As for Simon, he probably won’t see much action this year, being behind Elvis Dumervil and Courtney Upshaw on the depth chart.
Brandon Williams, the 24-year-old third-round pick, was selected to bolster the defensive line. After creating a lot of buzz in OTAs and training camp, it’s extremely likely he will share a large chunk of the workload with Arthur Jones, Haloti Ngata and Terrence Cody.