There have been many catch phrases and mottos to echo through the walls of the Ravens complex. The one that has stood the test of time is "Next Man UP!". It is more than just a common saying, it's a way of life in Baltimore. It is even the title of a book by John Feinstein, which chronicled the Ravens the year after winning the Super Bowl.
It is a simple phrase, which simply means that when one player goes down, another player has to take his place and play at a high level. The Baltimore Ravens will put that philosophy to the test in the 2012 season.
Baltimore lost several key players to free agency. Outside linebacker Jarret "JJ" Johnson, defensive end Cory Redding and guard Ben Grubbs have all left for other teams. So who is the "Next Man Up?"
As of now it would appear the next man up for the Grubbs is going to come through free agency. Evan Mathis, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles, reportedly has been visiting the Ravens since Thursday. He would be a welcome addition.
Who else will step up for popular veterans Jarret Johnson and Cory Redding? Look no further than home-grown players Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee, and Arthur Jones.
Paul Kruger was a second-round draft pick for the Ravens in the 2009 NFL Draft. His first two seasons were a bit of a disappointment for some, as he struggled to make much of an impact. Last season gave reasons for fans to have hope. In a part-time roll as an outside linebacker/defensive end, Kruger registered 5.5 sacks and recovered two fumbles. In the post season he added one more sack, bringing his total to 6.5 sacks for 2011.
What would he do as a starter? Kruger took a big step last season and could take an even bigger step this season if the Ravens do not draft another outside linebacker.
Pernell McPhee is looking like a steal from last season's draft. McPhee was a 5th round pick in the 2011 NFL Draft. The Mississippi State product had an outstanding season in 2011. Despite a part-time role, he recorded six sacks to go along with one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. He figures to be moved around in the Ravens base 3-4, either as a rush linebacker or he will have his hand in the dirt as a defensive end much like Kruger.
With Cory Redding's departure, Arthur Jones seems poised to take over his position. His comments on Twitter insinuate that he is certainly motivated:
"Just got off the phone with Cory Redding. He gave me a lot of encouraging words for the future. And I'm so not gonna disappoint"
Jones is another Ozzie Newsome late-round gem. He played well in a reserve role. Arthur Jones' knowledge of the defense and solid work ethic should make for a successful transition to a starter. In order to train for the upcoming season, Jones is training with his brother, UFC fighter Jon "Bones" Jones.
The Baltimore Ravens have been down this road before. All the players that the Ravens lose will certainly be missed. But,when players like Tony Saragusa, Sam Adams, Ed Hartwell, Bart Scott, Chris McAlister and Adalius Thomas left Baltimore, they were replaced with players who stepped up and played just as well or better. Paul Kruger, Pernell McPhee and Arthur Jones will try to follow in that tradition and be the "Next Man Up"
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