Wednesday 23rd August, 2017
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Spotlight on defense thanks to injuries on offense

Sports Xchange - Sunday 13th August, 2017

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- The Baltimore Ravens revamped defense has a familiar look.

And the team might have to rely on that unit to clear a path to the playoffs because of mounting injuries decimating the roster.

The Ravens suffered another blow this week when offensive lineman Alex Lewis and promising rookie receiver Tim White were ruled out for the year. The Ravens did get some good news about starting quarterback Joe Flacco, who is expected to be ready for the regular-season opener.

General manager Ozzie Newsome spent the offseason boosting the secondary and pass rush, and so far, that work appears to be paying dividends. This year's defense is already drawing comparisons to the dominant units from years ago led by the likes of linebackers Ray Lewis and Peter Boulware and safety Ed Reed.

The Ravens held Washington to just 138 total yards and a single field goal in the preseason opener Thursday night. The young pass rush finished with three sacks and the secondary was physical throughout the game. The challenge might be finding roster spots for so many playmakers.

"We have a lot of really good D-linemen, and they can't all make the team, probably," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said Saturday. "But we have depth, and I'm really excited about those guys. That competition makes everybody better. We're going to have a heck of a group, and I'm sure people are going to be calling us here shortly with some of our guys. We just have to see how it plays out, but we have a really good group of guys."

After struggling to close out games over the past two seasons by allowing long plays, Newsome drafted a cornerback, two linebackers and a 300-pound defensive tackle with the first four picks in this year's draft. The team strengthened its beleaguered secondary by adding free-agent safety Tony Jefferson and veteran cornerback Brandon Carr.

Despite the new players, the defense already appears to be a cohesive unit.

Tyus Bowser, a second-round pick from Houston in this year's draft, has shown a solid motor and been solid dropping back in coverage -- an area where the Ravens struggled last season. Jefferson has immediately meshed with fellow safety Eric Weddle and they could become one of the best tandems in the NFL.

Defensive tackle Bronson Kaufusi, who missed his entire rookie season with a broken ankle, had a sack against Washington and has shown potential to be a key contributor.

"I just looked at it as an opportunity to learn from the older guys," Kaufusi said about last year's injury-marred season. "I always try to look forward to the mental reps. I try to keep a good attitude during the process, and it's just a blessing to be here and continue to get better and learn from all the guys here."

While the defense looks promising, the offense appears to be a work in progress. Part of the issue has been injuries to three offensive linemen, Alex Lewis (shoulder), Nico Siragusa (knee) and John Urschel (retirement), who are already gone for the year.

Flacco has been sidelined with a back injury, but is expected to return to practice at some point during the preseason. However, he will not appear in any preseason games, the team announced. The plan is for Flacco to start against Cincinnati in the regular-season opener Sept. 10.

"It is the situation, as far as him being the most ready to play in the (regular season), according to the doctors and our back specialists," Harbaugh said. "That is what we go with - what the doctors say."

Ryan Mallett will likely continue to take most of the snaps, despite struggles throughout camp.

However, Baltimore's receiving corps has shown great potential with veterans Jeremy Maclin, Mike Wallace and Breshad Perriman leading the way.

None of those three played in the preseason opener, which created opportunities for some of the young players. The key for Baltimore is keeping players healthy. Since June 1, the Ravens have lost nine players because of injuries, a year-long suspension to tight end Darren Waller and Urschel's retirement.

The healthy players are still optimistic about the season.

"Keep building, fix the mistakes that were made and try and go undefeated," Jefferson said.

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