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 4-3.
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 Maryland.
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