Ever since the first years of the Ravens franchise, some of the most recognizable names and faces in the NFL have been found on the defensive side of the football in Baltimore. Ray Lewis and Ed Reed made up the most daunting duo in the league for the better part of a decade. The Ravens’ defense in general has long been known as a formidable force, starting with the “Defense Wins Championships” squad from the turn of the century and continuing all the way through Ray Lewis’ retirement party in New Orleans in January of 2013.
Since 1998, the Ravens defense has finished the season outside the top ten in yards per game just three times – 2002, 2012, and 2013. They’ve been in the top six 11 times over those 17 seasons. It should also be noted that the Ravens have had five defensive coordinators in their history before current DC Dean Pees, and four of them left the Ravens to accept head coaching jobs elsewhere.
In the absence of Lewis and Reed, linebacker Terrell Suggs has become the face of the defense. As Suggs has battled injuries over the past couple of seasons, it’s been up to the younger guys to take control and step up as leaders. Several have done a great job but there is one guy who nobody seems to talk about.
With Suggs and Elvis Dumervil on the wrong side of 30, it’s becoming even more paramount that a talented young defenseman takes the next step and, as crazy as it might sound, I think C.J. Mosley has some competition in that regard.
Third-year linebacker Zachary Orr has quietly been a force on the defensive side of the ball this season. A casual fan probably just knows him as the guy who intercepted Blake Bortles to seal the Ravens’ victory last Sunday in Jacksonville. However, Orr has made his presence felt all year long, leading the team in tackles over the first three games.
Not only has Orr tackled well, he has been impressive in pass coverage. Orr helped to limit dynamic running back LeSean McCoy to just 12 yards on four receptions in Week 1 and has contributed to the Ravens’ strong performance against opposing tight ends this season. Over the first three games, the Ravens have surrendered just 11 catches for 110 yards to tight ends. Much of that can be attributed to strong linebacker play and Orr has certainly been part of that.
Zach Orr signed with the Ravens as an undrafted free agent the same year Ozzie Newsome took Mosley in the first round. He has spent his career behind Daryl Smith on the depth chart, so this year is the first time he’s seeing consistent action after beating out Albert McClellan and rookie Kamalei Correa for the starting job alongside Mosley. There’s no denying he’s made the most of his opportunity thus far.
Ravens fans are all very high on C.J. Mosley and rightfully so. That said, Zachary Orr is a name you should learn if you don’t already know it. Obviously, nobody will ever replace Ray Lewis, but we could have another Bart Scott-type on our hands – a solid, reliable rock in the middle of the defense who, while not flashy, will do the dirty work and do it well.