Just when you thought the Ravens were going to resign T.J. Slaughter to plug the
gap at outside linebacker, Ozzie Newsome goes out and makes another big splash
in free agency by signing former Dunbar football and basketball standout Tommy Polley.
While Slaughter would have been an adequate partner for Ray Lewis, Polley does
more than just fill the void left by Ed Hartwell’s departure to the Atlanta Falcons.
While Polley is a good tackler, he fits in perfect with this Ravens defense
because of his athleticism and ability to make the big play. He has the hands to
make interceptions and the speed to return them for touchdowns. He just adds to
the list of playmakers on the defensive side of the ball, and his speed is
perfect for the outside linebacker position in the Ravens change back to the
Polley is a former Florida State Seminole, so I’m sure he will fit in quite
nicely working alongside Peter Boulware (FSU) and Lewis (Miami). The speed of
this linebacker corps will allow them to run sideline to sideline and
effectively shut down any attempts of the opposition running toss or sweep plays
to the outside.
If Kelly Gregg and Dwan Edwards or Ma’ake Kemoeatu can take on and preoccupy
offensive lineman, the Ravens should also be very effective at shutting down the
run up the middle as well.
At this point, very few questions remain for this Ravens team, especially on the
defensive side of the ball. The defensive tackles are a question, as are the
health of Boulware and the return of Deion Sanders. If the Ravens get good play
from their DT’s and the nickel back position, the defense will have a chance to
mirror that of the 2001 Super Bowl champs.
I know everyone heard that before the season. All the hype surrounded the
defense and compared them to that of the 2001 team, but they never came close to
measuring up. The situation is different now. Baxter didn’t live up to his
potential, and Rolle is a big upgrade. The Ravens were still in a 3-4 instead of
a 4-3, which minimized the contributions from Lewis roaming the middle. Boulware
was injured for the entire season, which hurt the pass rush.
The job Newsome has done this off season has been overlooked and nothing short
of genius. He has found the right players at the right price and made the Ravens
into serious contenders once again. Polley is probably the last free agent piece
to the puzzle, except for maybe the addition of a veteran wide receiver like Ike Hilliard.
Owner Steve Bisciotti certainly made it clear that last year’s results were
simply unacceptable, and Newsome has done a great job to assure last season will
not happen again.
This team has not only made themselves the favorites in the AFC North, but I
think it might just be the best team in football on paper. Whether that
translates into success on the field remains to be seen, but in any case, I
think any coach would take his chances with the players on this roster.
The scary part is the NFL draft still lies ahead, and everyone knows about
Newsome’s success here. The Ravens will most certainly improve by the time the
draft ends, and it’s really hard to limit expectations with this team. The sky
is really the limit when you look at the personnel on the field.
But then again, last year’s team was supposed to be primed for a Super Bowl run,
and they didn’t even make the playoffs. So much can happen throughout training
camp and the regular season to change the complexion of a team. Chemistry is
always a wild card, and you never know how all the new guys coming in with mesh
with the core of the team.
Even still, you sense this team, this organization, could be on a mission to
reconcile last year’s disastrous results. Lewis and Jonathan Ogden, among
others, are seeing their window closing as they creep closer and closer to the
twilight of their careers, and the urgency grows with each missed opportunity.
Can it all come together, and can they get it all done this year?
Only time will tell.
Steve DeClue, Ravens' fan, is a journalism major at the University of