The Baltimore Ravens had a number of opportunities to address it, but they chose over the course of this offseason not to add to their stable of inside linebackers over the course of the offseason, this in spite of the fact that they parted with one of their starters at the position in Daryl Smith.
A veteran signing in 2013, the addition of Smith helped to stabilize the Ravens’ defensive interior after the retirement of Ray Lewis after the 2012 season. He started immediately, in fact, starting all 48 regular season games over his three-year tenure with Baltimore.
While his specialty had tended to be in pass coverage, he proved to be an all-purpose player, and he amassed an absurd 362 tackles over the course of his three seasons with the Ravens, as well as nine sacks, five interceptions, four forced fumbles, and 29 passes defensed.
At age 34, however, the Ravens felt it was time to move on—only it’s not entirely clear what they will be moving on to. With only five inside linebackers currently listed on their offseason roster, they will presumably be turning to Albert McClellan, a sixth-year veteran who has spent his entire career in Baltimore, including in 2012 when he started 11 games while filling in for Lewis’ injury-plagued and antler-riddled final season.
That year, in a little over 400 snaps, McClellan produced 49 tackles, one sack, one forced fumble, and two passes defensed. He has not started a game since then, however, and has accumulated 36 tackles and a forced fumble over the past three seasons, no doubt almost entirely consisting of special teams contributions.
McClellan logged just 160 defensive snaps last season, while logging well over 300 on special teams. Zachary Orr also logged 142 defensive snaps last year, but Arthur Brown, a former second-round draft pick, played just 10. And evidently they will be fighting for the starting job.
During his post-draft press conference, head coach John Harbaugh was asked about the inside linebacker position, and he acknowledged that one of the factors in not drafting a player at the position was that they “think those are very good players” and that “they’ll compete for the starting spots”.
He also noted that they “have a good history of free agent linebackers”. Both McClellan and Orr are former undrafted free agents that the Ravens originally signed. But that seems to be a dangerous position to bank on.
Yet he did acknowledge that “you can’t fill every need in the draft” and that they will “try to fill it other ways”. Harbaugh expressed confidence when asked that a starter will emerge from that group of backup players.
He is a more confident man than I am. I frankly find it surprising that the Ravens did not considering inside linebacker a more pressing issue that should have been addressed at some point during the offseason. They certainly had the draft fuel to move around the board and get one that they wanted. While they have a strong defensive line, they also need two inside linebackers to clean up and make the tackles. I’m only confident in one of them.