After cutting Elvis Dumervil and adding two early round draft picks this off-season the linebacker corps will have some added talent this season. The only certain starters are CJ Mosley and Terrell Suggs. A few of the linebackers offer versatility so let's examine where they could line up this season.
With the aforementioned Suggs and Mosley they are the clear entrenched starters and leaders of the defense. With Suggs being in the "back 9" of his career and Mosley entering his prime. There is not too much to discuss as far as a battle here. CJ Mosley will continue to play pretty much every snap at inside linebacker but with Suggs I believe this is the year his snap count may get reduced. I think if his playing time is reduced just by a little he can be more effective down the long stretch of a season. Suggs is however the only outside linebacker adept at both stopping the run and rushing the passer. While he may not be as athletic in coverage as he once was he is savvy and relied on heavily among the younger players diagnosing the plays. CJ Mosley has made the pro-bowl 2 out of 3 years and is the only Raven rookie to ever make the pro-bowl. That's impressive considering the Ravens have drafted the likes of Ray Lewis, Jonathan Ogden, Ed Reed, and on and on. Mosley took a big step last year especially in the area of coverage and he continues to become a more complete linebacker. I expect him to continue to improve again this year.
Kamalei Correa and Albert McClellan are the likely candidates to start alongside Mosley. What's interesting about these two is they both can play outside as well as well as Tyus Bowser but I'll get to him later. I loved Correa coming out in the draft and he was one of the players I was hoping we would target. I think he is best suited outside rushing the passer but with Orr's unexpected retirement he will end up inside by default. I'd prefer if he played outside and took some snaps inside blitzing from time to time. McClellan is a smart player and a veteran that can be relied upon playing anywhere he is needed. McClellan's weakness is his speed which as evidenced by our draft this year we are headed in that direction. He also can fill that role filled by Courtney Upshaw at setting the edge and stopping the run. He's not much of a pass rusher on the outside but he can contribute on the outside. I see Correa getting the start next to Mosley and McClellan may play outside on early downs and occasional snaps at inside if needed.
Matt Judon and Za'Darius Smith are the young players at outside linebacker with Judon entering his 2nd year and Smith entering his 3rd. Smith pretty much disappeared last year with 1 sack in his sophomore slump but he showed plenty of promise in his rookie year with 5 and half sacks. Judon having just his rookie year showed plenty of promise in limited action with 4 sacks. Smith was the forgotten man last year but with the upcoming rookies on his heels I'm sure he's plenty motivated to make his case to be a starter. The battle between these two may be closer than people expect.
The rookies Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams are guys I'm very excited about and the common theme here is speed among the two. They are both nearly the same size and both about 25 lbs lighter than Judon and Smith so they offer a different pass rushing flavor which is speed and I was a big advocate that we got that before the draft and I couldn't be happier with the two selections. Bowser has more agility than Williams and can do more as far as coverage abilities so he will probably take some snaps on the inside as well as the outside. He can be matched up with running backs and tight ends so our coverage just got a lot better even beyond the secondary. Having multiple players that can play both inside and outside will disguise a lot of things and will make Dean Pees very happy. I expect we will see a lot more exotic blitzes this season and keep offenses guessing. Williams was a top 15 player in this year's draft on talent alone. If not for his off-the-field concerns he was a player many thought the Ravens could select at 16. I think this year he is best suited to just worry about rushing the quarterback and that's what he does best. He can be eased into his other duties down the line but right now just let him hunt the quarterback and don't put too much on his plate.
I think last year the biggest weakness in the defense was more a lack of pressure on the quarterback than coverage issues but Ozzie has done his best to fix both of those areas the best he could. We also have another pass rusher in Bronson Kaufusi coming back this year but is more of a defensive end that can also play outside linebacker if we needed him to. I know there are other linebackers on the roster like Anthony Levine and Patrick Onwuasor that I see still more as safeties or hybrids. Linebacker is a position though for the Ravens undrafted free agents seem to come out of nowhere, but until training camp we don't know if the next Zach Orr will be found. Let the competition begin.