For the last few years the Ravens have been known for producing defenses ranked in the top 10 on a consistent basis, but in 2021 a series of injuries to the secondary led to an uncharacteristically weak defensive showing and their first losing record since 2015. And after ranking 19th overall in defense and giving up a league-worst 4,742 passing yards last season, Baltimore is ready to get back to business.
"I feel really good about that group back there, I mean really good about the secondary personnel-wise," coach John Harbaugh said Thursday after practice.
In an effort to shore up the defense, the Ravens have made a number of offseason moves. They drafted safety Kyle Hamilton, signed safety Marcus Williams and cornerback Kyle Fuller and re-signed safety Tony Jefferson, immediately adding depth to the secondary. In addition, some defensive players who missed all or a portion of last season due to injury are set to return, such as cornerbacks Marlon Humphrey, who tore his pectoral in Week 13 of 2021, and Marcus Peters, who tore his ACL before the season even started. Humphrey was seen practicing with the team during Baltimore's organized team activities this week, and Harbaugh said Peters was "coming along really well" in his rehab.
With this combination of new signings and players returning from injury, there is suddenly an overflow of players to fight for the limited spots on the field. But Harbaugh said that's just how he wants it, as he knows only too well how quickly injuries can deplete even the deepest of defenses,
"Oh yeah, there will be plenty of snaps for these guys," Harbaugh said. "We found that out last year."
The Ravens have also been looking to increase the flexibility of its players in the secondary, so that they can not only cover other positions in the case of an injury, but can also work with new defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald on calling more creative plays.
"We want to have it to where any DB can play any position at anytime," Humphrey said. "I think that flexibility is going to make us be able to do a lot of good things in the secondary."
One specific area in which Humphrey says the Ravens are specifically looking to improve on is turnovers -- Baltimore finished the 2021 season with only 15, tied for 30th in the NFL. The team's offseason moves should help in this endeavor, as Hamilton had eight interceptions in three years at Notre Dame, and the trio of Williams, Fuller, and Jefferson have a combined 38 career interceptions and 15 career forced fumbles. Add that to Peters, who has 31 career interceptions over the six seasons he's seen time in, and Humphrey, who had a league-leading eight forced fumbles in 2020, and Baltimore could have a recipe for success for creating disruption downfield.
"We want to preach turnovers, think turnovers," Humphrey said. "I might be walking in the cafeteria and hit somebody's lunch plate out of their hands trying to get a forced fumble. That's a really big thing for us. I think you can have a great, fundamentally sound defense, but if you have no turnovers, your defense still just kind of is whatever."
After a season in which injuries ravaged the defense and led to the Ravens missing the playoffs, a revamped depth chart and new approach to the secondary could help Baltimore return to its previous form.