The Baltimore Ravens have sputtered to a 3-4 start and entered the bye week on a two-game losing streak. With a pivotal five-game stretch looming, three of the games against division opponents, coach John Harbaugh sent a strong and clear message with the release of under-performing veterans Michael Huff and Marcus Spears.
Huff was touted as the next big thing at safety when he was drafted seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2006. After seven average years with the Raiders, the hope was that the thrill of joining a contender and the responsibility of replacing a living legend in Ed Reed would light a fire under the supremely athletic Huff. Instead, he was beaten out as the starter in training camp by rookie Matt Elam and career backup James Ihedigbo. Now after seven games and six tackles, Harbaugh and the Ravens sent Huff packing.
Spears, meanwhile, was signed after eight years on the Dallas Cowboys‘ on the defensive line. Once in Baltimore, he was rarely seen in opponents’ backfield and was was sighted as a reason for the Ravens’ uncharacteristically mediocre rush defense. With all things said and done, all the duo were due to make about was about $4 million this season. Not a fortune in NFL terms, but certainly more than their play indicated they were worth, and Harbaugh sent a succinct message for the final nine games of the season: Under-performance will not be tolerated.
In their stead, second-year man Anthony Levine will see more playing time in pass coverage while DeAngelo Tyson and rookie third-round pick Brandon Williams will get extra time in the defensive line rotation.
The release of the two veterans was not the only move Harbaugh made in an effort to improve the defense. Jameel McClain will replace Josh Bynes as the starter at weak side linebacker. Bynes was yet another new starter on the defense that had to replace numerous veterans from the Super Bowl unit and had yet to make any big plays for the D.
An already heated rivalry has picked up this week as stud Cleveland Browns cornerback Joe Haden has provided some bulletin material for the visitors. The hope in Baltimore is that Harbaugh’s tweaks will spark a big win over the Browns and set the tone for the second half of the season.