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Ravens post-draft two-deep: Defense

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Ravens post-draft two-deep: Defense

The draft is in the books, so the Ravens now have a much clearer picture of what their 2015 roster will look like than they did two weeks ago.

To be sure, Ozzie Newsome and Co. never stop watching the waiver wire, and the roster still figures to have plenty of additions and subtractions. In fact, a slew of undrafted rookies will be in Owings Mills this weekend for a rookie minicamp as they try to beat the long odds and make the team.

"We’re not done putting this team together right now," Newsome said after the draft. "It’s still two or three months – maybe four months – before we have to play Denver. We as a personnel staff, we’re still going to be mining for players to make our roster to make us better.”

We've already tried to sketch out an early, post-draft Ravens two-deep on offense. Now we tackle the defense and special teams:

DE: Chris Canty, DeAngelo Tyson

NT: Brandon Williams, Casey Walker

DT: Timmy Jernigan, Carl Davis

OLB: Terrell Suggs, Za'Darius Smith

ILB: CJ Mosley, Albert McClellan

ILB: Daryl Smith, Zach Orr

OLB: Elvis Dumervil, Courtney Upshaw

CB: Lardarius Webb, Asa Jackson

SS: Kendrick Lewis, Matt Elam

FS: Will Hill, Anthony Levine

CB: Jimmy Smith, Rashaan Melvin

 

P: Sam Koch

K: Justin Tucker

LS: Morgan Cox

PR/KR: Michael Campanaro, Asa Jackson

 

COMMENTS:

DEFENSIVE LINE: Timmy Jernigan takes over for the departed Haloti Ngata, and rookie Carl Davis figures to work into the rotation. Lawrence Guy is back to fill a backup role as well, and promising defensive ends Brent Urban and Kapron Lewis-Moore both should return from knee injuries that cost them all of last season. They would fill in at end behind veteran Chris Canty, who was re-signed. It's a deep group.

LINEBACKER: Courtney Upshaw will be highly motivated to have a strong season as he enters a contract year. Can he become more of a pass rush threat in the mold of Pernell McPhee? Rookie fourth-round pick Za'Darius Smith looks to make an impact as an edge rusher as well. C.J. Mosley and Daryl Smith again hold down the middle. Will there be an Arthur Brown sighting this year?

CORNERBACK: Can these guys finally stay healthy? The Ravens are in good shape if Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith can stay on the field. If not? Asa Jackson also has yet to make it through a season, and Rashaan Melvin had his moments but was also exposed by Tom Brady in the playoffs. The Ravens added rookie cornerback Tray Walker in the fourth round, but this remains the No. 1 position to upgrade through the summer. When have we heard that before? Oh, right. Last year.

SAFETY: Kendrick Lewis, the Ravens' one notable free-agent addition, will step in as a starter. He can play either safety but is likely to start at strong safety, with Will Hill manning the free safety spot. Will Matt Elam finally live up to first-round form? Second-year safety Terrence Brooks could be a factor as well but is likely to start the season on the physically-unable-to-perform list.

SPECIALISTS: All's well, as the 'Wolf Pack' is back intact this season, assuming Morgan Cox is fully recovered from his season-ending knee injury. Michael Campanaro and Asa Jackson should get the first shot to succeed Jacoby Jones in the return game. The Ravens biggest issue here is Justin Tucker's contract; he is due to become an unrestricted free agent next season.

[RELATED: Ed Reed retires from NFL]

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Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

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USA TODAY Sports

Wide receiver Willie Snead thriving with Ravens as man in the middle

OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- Willie Snead has a knack for weaving through a row of linebackers in the middle of the field before making a clutch catch for the Baltimore Ravens.

Such was the case last Sunday against Tennessee, when Snead squeezed between two defenders for a 24-yard gain on a third-and-17 from the Baltimore 15.

"He's on the ground, he makes the catch, he's getting pushed back to the ground, stepped all over, and he just gets up and gives the first-down signal right there in the guy's face," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "That's the kind of competitor he is. He's all ball, all the time."

Baltimore general manager Ozzie Newsome rarely chases restricted free agents, but he made an exception with Snead this past offseason after it became apparent that the receiver's three-year run in New Orleans was done. One of Drew Brees' favorite targets in 2015 and 2016, Snead began last season with a three-game suspension for violating the NFL personal conduct policy. He then fought a hamstring injury and finished with just eight catches for 92 yards and no touchdowns.

Armed with a two-year, $10.4 million contract, Snead was delighted to arrive in Baltimore last April.

"Last year just left a really bitter taste in my mouth, the organization and how everything was handled," Snead said Tuesday. "To be a part of this organization was just a breath of fresh air. I wanted to go somewhere where I'm wanted."

It couldn't have worked out better for Snead -- and the Ravens.

"To see that you were right, to see all that come together and him play so well, being exactly what you thought you were going to get, is very rewarding," Harbaugh said.

Snead was one of three free agent receivers signed by Newsome in an effort to enhance a passing game that sputtered in 2017. Snead is the possession receiver, Michael Crabtree provides an outside threat and John Brown is the speedster.

Snead and Crabtree are tied for the team lead with 30 catches. Brown has 21 receptions for a team-high 424 yards and three touchdowns.

"I don't have the physical ability like John Brown to run by you, and I'm not big and strong like Michael Crabtree," Snead observed, "so I have to work harder than everybody else just to stand out."

That's how it's always been for Snead, who finally finds himself in a place where his talent is acknowledged and appreciated.

"This is a guy that's been doubted his whole career -- high school, college and the NFL," Harbaugh said. "So I'm fine if they keep doubting him."

After starring as a quarterback at Muskegon Heights in Michigan, Snead played three years as a receiver at Ball State before going undrafted in 2014. He finally made it to the NFL the following year.

"Coming out of college, (people said) I left too early, I wasn't ready to play in the NFL," Snead recalled. "And in the NFL, it was, `Is he fast enough to separate? Can he make those plays in clutch situations?' I've always been doubted."

Not anymore.

"I'll tell you one thing, Willie comes Sunday ready to play," Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said. "He's one of the toughest guys I've been around."

This Sunday, the Ravens (4-2) host the Saints (4-1). Snead insists this wasn't one of those games that he circled on the calendar.

"This is another team. I have to approach it that way just to stay focused," Snead said.

New Orleans coach Sean Payton has seen enough of Snead this season to know he's a threat with the ball, and without it.

"He has a tremendous amount of grit. You see him making plays on third down," Payton said. "He's an outstanding blocker. He'll come across in motion, he'll get to the point of attack in the run game, but he'll also find the holes in the zone and man-to-man coverages."

The 5-foot-11, 205-pound Snead has no problem mixing it up with anyone, large or small, at any spot on the field.

"He can go inside or outside, but man, he makes some -- scouts call them blood area -- catches," Harbaugh said. "In the middle, that's where he thrives."

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

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Dominant defense earns Ravens' Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors

The defensive performance on display by the Baltimore Ravens Sunday against the Tennessee Titans in a 21-0 shutout win was flat out historic. So historic that it's earned linebacker Za'Darius Smith AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

A franchise-record 11 sacks were laid on quarterback Marcus Mariota during the Week 6 matchup, with Smith leading the way with three of them.   

So far this season the 26-year-old has 20 combined tackles, 5.5 sacks, and one forced fumble. As someone who is in the final year of his rookie NFL contract, he's certainly proving he is worthy of getting paid this offseason. 

"It feels great, man. It's big," Smith said of the honor during media availability Wednesday. "I know when I first found out I called my mom and she was already looking at it. But I called her and she was trying to congratulate me and was like 'who would've ever thought the guy that played one year of high school football would be where he at now and making so many goals.'"

But earning AFC Defensive Player of the Week isn't the only goal Smith has in mind. His performance through the first six weeks and assisting the No. 1 ranked scoring defense is just a stepping stone to the ultimate honor.

"I was telling her, 'Ma you know this is a good self-goal but my main goal is to get us to the Super Bowl.'" 

The road to the Super Bowl for Smith and the Ravens continues this Sunday vs. Drew Brees and the Saints. 

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