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Ravens' Roquan Smith is confident the defense can still thrive after offseason departures

Baltimore Ravens to open 2024 season with AFC Championship rematch
Baltimore Ravens to open 2024 season with AFC Championship rematch 00:46

BALTIMORE -- Roquan Smith is in midseason form, in terms of sound bites at least.

"We still have a lot of these dogs on the team, and it's just about staying hungry," the Baltimore linebacker said this week. "We hunt as a pack, and I think of like safaris and things like that — like a pack of hyenas, lions or whoever it is, don't really want to run up on those guys. So I feel like we got that kind of mindset and guys on all three levels."

Although two-time MVP Lamar Jackson is hard to match in terms of popularity, Smith is certainly capable of sharing the role of face of the franchise.

Now entering his second full season with the Ravens, his presence may be the biggest reason Baltimore's defense could remain elite this upcoming season despite some significant losses in free agency.

The Ravens acquired Smith in a midseason trade in 2022. He was so good for the rest of that season that he was voted team MVP by local media. He also earned All-Pro honors each of the past two years.

Like Jackson, Smith signed a contract through 2027, and he seems well on his way to joining the lengthy list of defensive stars who became revered in Charm City.

Last season, the Ravens had the best regular-season record in the league while ranking atop the NFL in scoring defense, sacks and takeaways.

That's all in the past, however.

"Last year doesn't matter anymore," Smith said. "It's a new year, new team."

Smith and fellow linebacker Patrick Queen were the first duo in Ravens history with at least 130 tackles each in a season, but Queen signed with rival Pittsburgh, and Baltimore also lost pass rusher Jadeveon Clowney. The Ravens also have a new defensive coordinator after Mike Macdonald was hired as the head coach of the Seattle Seahawks.

The Ravens did manage to keep Kyle Van Noy and Justin Madubuike, two other keys to their defense. So Baltimore has a star on the defensive line (Madubuike), at linebacker (Smith) and in the secondary (safety Kyle Hamilton).

Second-year man Trenton Simpson, a third-round draft pick in 2023, appears likely to play a bigger role at inside linebacker with Queen gone. Smith says Simpson will surprise people.

"He's still learning for sure, but I think the way that he doesn't make the same mistakes over and over every day — he learns from his mistakes, and I think that's crucial when you're young, being able to not make the same mistakes twice," Smith said.

"I know he doesn't understand how fast, how explosive and how powerful he is, but once he actually understands that, which I think will be very soon, watch out."

Baltimore's new defensive coordinator, Zach Orr, was previously the team's inside linebackers coach. He also played linebacker less than a decade ago for Baltimore before retiring because of a neck and spine condition.

"He probably would still be playing right now if it wasn't for that," Smith said. "My first day here, I remember going up to his office, meeting, going over pretty much every play. There was a lot — my head was spinning a little bit, but he was very patient with me, and he was able to teach the information that I would need in order to succeed playing a game within six days."

Smith says as former linebackers, he and Orr see the game in a similar way.

"He played 'backer in this league, so the way he saw things as a 'backer, he kind of teaches it from that, which I think makes things a lot easier to understand," Smith said. "I think it's going to be great, and I'm just excited to put it on display this fall."

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