Ravens veteran defensive line additions bring great flexibility and leadership
This offseason the Baltimore Ravens’ pass rush has been a popular topic of conversation and concern considering that they finished 21st in sacks with 37 in 2019 and didn’t bring in any new blood at edge rusher in free agency nor the draft. However, General Manager Eric DeCosta did add a pair of veteran interior defensive linemen who bring tremendous leadership on and off the field and provide the defense with great schematic flexibly upfront with their versatile skillsets.
He traded acquired five-time Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell from the Jacksonville Jaguars via trade on the eve of the new league year and signed former Denver Bronco defensive end Derek Wolfe to a one year deal after the three-year deal with Michael Brockers of the Los Angeles Rams fell through.
In a video press conference call with members of the media on Tuesday, Ravens’ defensive coordinator Don ‘Wink’ Martindale raved about what the two new additions to his front seven ranks bring to the table.
“They’re two great players and leaders,” Martindale said. “Calais and Derek both have been just phenomenal in these Zoom meetings and getting to know their teammates as well as you can over the Internet.”
Campbell is one of the most well-respected players in the league and was the 2019 recipient of the Walter Peyton Man of the Year Award. Wolfe is one of the most selfless players in the league and brings championship pedigree after being a signature member of the 2015 Broncos’ defense that carried a hobbled Peyton Manning to a victory in Superbowl L (50).
Both of them are three-down players that never half to come off the field because they excel at stuffing the run as well as getting after the quarterback when they drop back to pass or roll out on play action.
“We want football players. We’re going to play people to their strengths. If you’re a run player, a run-type player, we’re going to get you out there when it comes to those situations. As a pass rusher, I think that we’ve got some flexibility. You’ve got Derek Wolfe [who] you can move inside. You can move Calais inside or outside. There’s just different flexibility that you have with everybody.”
The Ravens were able to put a lot of heat on opposing signal callers at times by running stunts, twists and loops that would free up outside linebackers and blitzers from the second and third level to have an unobstructed pathway to the quarterback. Campbell can gobble up blocks to set up his teammates for success just as well as he can shed them to make the play himself and Wolfe was the unsung hero of the Broncos defense that did a lot of the dirty grunt work so that other could shine. With the Ravens, they both will have an opportunity to do both on a regular biases week in and week out.
“I think that everybody wants to talk about pass rush. I understand when you talk about four-man pass rush, but we were able to get to the quarterback last year. You guys know how we did it; it’s documented,” Martindale said.
They’ll both be adding some much needed just to an interior pass rush that recorded just four sacks from its down linemen last season. Campbell is enjoying his best stretch of play of his career in his 30s, amassing 31.5 sacks in the last three seasons including a career-high 14.5 in 2017. Wolfe was having the best season of his career in 2019, recording seven sacks in 12 games before an elbow injury knocked him out for the remainder of the year.
Both players can play multiple positions along the Ravens’ defensive line that include five and three-technique in the base defense and even on the edge or at nose tackle in sub-packages. Martindale was able to supplement his pass rush by sending more defenders to generate pressure on blitzes. His unit was the most blitz-heavy in the league last season and while having these two new shiny pieces might not persuade him from deviating much from that aggressive mindset, it will hopefully allow him to get more with less.
“I think that it just makes your package more flexible. You’ve got Calais Campbell, who’s the best five-technique in the National Football League, and you’ve got Derek Wolfe,” Martindale said. “You can work a combination of those guys. It all depends on how fast the younger guys come along. I just think that we’re better upfront. I think with ‘Big Baby’ [Brandon Williams] getting moved back to the ‘Nose’ – but he’ll still play three-technique. You know how we do it; we’ll move them all around. It’s going to be fun to watch. I just can’t wait to get together.”
Martindale and the rest of the coaching staff won’t be able to truly ascertain what kind of schematic flexibility that he has with Campbell, Wolfe and the other pieces that are returning, were added and brought back until the team takes the field together for the first time since their stunning loss in the playoffs. Until then he’ll be taking the wait and see approach and hope that the new investment pays dividends in the form of an improved front that presents an impenetrable wall against the run and proves to be a great penetrating pass-rushing force.
“You know the players that we have in Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe,” Martindale said. “Schematically, does it change a whole lot? We’ll wait and see with different personnel flexibility.”