Ravens will miss LB Thomas, but D will still dominate

BALTIMORE -- Five observations on the Baltimore Ravens, gleaned from the team's Aug. 4 scrimmage against the Washington Redskins:

1. Another year, another dominating Ravens defense
The Ravens' defense statistically ranked first overall in the league in 2006, surrendered the fewest points and third-down conversions, posted the top turnover/takeaway differential, had the most interceptions and the second-most sacks. Even minus do-it-all linebacker Adalius Thomas -- who defected to New England as a free agent, making him the only starter who won't return to the defense this season --- there is no reason why coordinator Rex Ryan's unit won't be just as dominant in 2007.

Ryan's aggressive scheme not only compresses the line of scrimmage and brings intense pressure on the pocket, but it is incredibly well-camouflaged. And, of course, everybody swarms to the ball and hits hard. Even with several starters sitting out Saturday's scrimmage here, the defense was impressive and young players like rookie linebacker Prescott Burgess of Michigan have already assimilated the Ravens' pervasive attack mentality. Baltimore will no doubt miss Thomas, and his replacement, Jarret Johnson, isn't nearly as versatile. But the four-year veteran uses his hands well, sheds blocks versus the run and has enough pass-rush ability to benefit from the scheme. It could be another linebacker, though, who steps into the role Thomas played, lining up all over the place. Bart Scott, who had a breakout year in his fifth season in 2006, earning his first Pro Bowl berth, seems to be the player who's being groomed to assume some of Thomas' former responsibilities. He likely won't play quite as many positions as Thomas did, but don't be surprised to see Scott aligned at safety in some situations. This figures to once again be a unit that surrenders yards grudgingly.