Neil’s NFL Daily: August 6, 2013
This year's defense better than last? Neil Hornsby reports from Ravens camp to share what he saw and why he thinks that's a possibility.
Neil’s NFL Daily: August 6, 2013
Monday August 5 – Ravens Camp (Owings Mills)
It’s not a surprise this organization is the Super Bowl champion – they make good personnel decisions, good coaching decisions and aren’t afraid to spend money in areas they feel will add value. All that is encapsulated by the team’s Owings Mills facility which is as good as I’ve seen from an NFL standpoint.
They’ve had a busy offseason and after their initial faux pas (in my opinion) of letting Anquan Boldin leave, they’ve made strike after strike. Adding Chris Canty, Michael Huff, Daryl Smith, Elvis Dumervil and the unknown A.Q. Shipley were all smart moves which will make this team better. Sacrilege as it may be, I think this defense will be significantly improved over last year.
Smith, in particular, is getting rave reviews. The team are delighted with both his attitude and performance to a level I’m not sure even they realize just how good he was in Jacksonville in 2011. In that year he was the 41st–ranked player in our Top 101 feature and certainly the top 4-3 OLB in the league. If he can come even close to that level (and from the way people are talking about him maybe that’s possible) it could be the steal of the offseason.
Lining up the Defensive Line
Last year the Ravens squeezed what they could out of the personnel they had on the defensive line but they knew they were playing some people out of position. Haloti Ngata in particular admitted that playing the five-technique made him feel uncomfortable. He wants to play in the middle either on the nose or shaded over a guard and that’s what his team wants too. Last year he was good but not dominant and his +11.2 grade was his lowest of the last three years.
That’s the reason Baltimore went out and got Chris Canty and Marcus Spears; to allow Ngata to get back inside to the position he enjoys. While I’m not huge on Spears — he was never the same player following his injury in 2010 (he’s graded negatively overall twice and shown very poor capacity for getting to the QB) — I think Canty is a much underrated player and an ideal fit for the Ravens. While he may not have justified his contract with the Giants an APY of $2.7M in Baltimore is a borderline bargain for a player with his ability to get pressure.
Finally a quick note on the player (outside of Daryl Smith) the Ravens are highest on — this year’s third round pick, defensive tackle Brandon Williams. He’s currently listed as a three-technique, behind Arthur Jones on the depth chart, but he looks like he can play the nose. It’s almost impossible, in these types of limited contact practice, to assess his ability fully, but he looked competent enough for me to write this paragraph without feeling I was being duped by the PR department.
Center of Discussion
When the Ravens traded a conditional seventh round pick to the Colts for A.Q. Shipley I was amazed. Not from thinking he wasn’t worth that – far from it – but because I felt he was the best center, and possibly the best lineman, Indianapolis had last year. Shipley did a superb job in relief of Samson Satele; playing 476 snaps and ending the year with a PFF grade of +6.9. He did a decent job in both pass protection and run blocking and never gave up a single penalty.
Now he’s locked in a battle for the starting job with Gino Gradkowski who’s sat behind Matt Birk last year and only got reps at his position in one of those week 17 games no one likes – the type where both teams are in the playoffs with nothing on the line and starters are rested. It’s a hardly a suitable forum for making informed judgments about a player’s ability.
They are rotating series with the first team unit and currently it looks like a dead heat. That said the body types of these guys may give some clue as to the eventual winner. Shipley carries a lot of weight in his lower body and is incredibly sturdy at the point of attack while Gradkowski appears more athletic and faster to the edge if required.
Regardless of who wins it’s still brilliant work by Baltimore to get a player that can challenge for a starting role against a worthy competitor. That Shipley is getting equal time with a guy who the team knew and liked is a testament to that fact.
I don’t know who’ll win, or indeed if force majeure will intervene, but I always like the confidence borne of demonstrated ability and on that basis I’ll tip Shipley.
– Tandon Doss is currently the slot receiver in 11 personnel.
– It’s mildly surprising and unusual that neither Matt Elam nor Arthur Brown is currently starting. With Elam the fact that the player in front of him is James Ihedigbo suggests either a real improvement by the veteran or, far more worryingly, that Elam is taking time for things to gel. With Brown being held off by last year’s starter, Jameel McClain would have been expected but McClain still isn’t back after his week 14 injury in 2012 and it’s 2011 free agent, Josh Bynes holding the reins.
NB: I’ve amended the Ravens depth chart accordingly, added in the position battles in purple and the update is below:
Other editions of Neil’s NFL Daily can be found HERE
Follow Neil on Twitter: @PFF_Neil
Neil Hornsby | PFF Founder
Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.