OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- For their 17 years in Baltimore, this was Ray Lewis' defense. Now, as the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens completed the second week of offseason workouts, this has become a doughnut defense. That is, one with a hole in the middle of it.
Rolando McClain retired before he even practiced for the Ravens. Second-round pick Arthur Brown is sidelined but hopes to return by training camp after undergoing sports-hernia surgery. Jameel McClain has yet to be cleared for full-team drills after a spinal-cord contusion caused him to miss the final three regular-season games of 2012 and all of the playoffs. And Albert McClellan didn't practice Friday because of an undisclosed injury.
Who's left at inside linebacker for the Ravens? Josh Bynes, Nigel Carr, Bryan Hall and Brandon Copeland. All four were undrafted and two of them (Hall and Copeland) are converting from defensive linemen.
The Ravens, though, know they have time to get healthy. There are still three full months before they kick off the regular season at Denver.
"You can go back 50 years, no matter who the linebacker was -- whether it was [Dick] Butkus or whether it’s Ray Lewis -- no matter who it is, someone always ends up stepping up and has to step up to be the next guy in that situation," defensive coordinator Dean Pees said.
This isn't like last season, when Pees and the Ravens knew they would open the season without Terrell Suggs. The hope is that Brown and Jameel McClain will be manning the middle for Baltimore by training camp.
Brown told reporters Friday that he's "making progress daily" and is taking mental reps. Not being on the field during offseason workouts will hurt Brown, who is making the transition from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 scheme.
McClain has been optimistic about his chances of returning this season. He's been participating in individual drills and there are no restrictions to his training regimen.
"We definitely want Jameel out there," Pees said. "It’s very critical from the standpoint of he’s our leadership out there. He’s kind of the only veteran inside guy that we really have in there."
Despite the injuries, there are high expectations for the Ravens defense. The additions of linebacker Elvis Dumervil, safety Michael Huff, defensive lineman Chris Canty along with the return of cornerback Lardarius Webb from a season-ending knee injury should boost a defense that finished No. 17 in the NFL last season, the Ravens' worst defensive ranking since 2002.
Pees was asked if this year's defense will be better than the one that helped Baltimore win a Super Bowl.
"It’s really always unfair to say ahead of time what the defense is going to be," Pees said. "We have to be better than we were last year. We were good in the playoffs -- good enough -- but we weren’t good enough during the season for us to be the kind of defense that we want to be. We have to be better than we were a year ago, I’ll put it that way. I don’t know whether we will be, but we need to be.”