Last season with Chuck Pagano as the Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator linebacker Brendon Ayanbadejo was a key contributor on defense. This season under the new coordinator Dean Pees he has barely seen the field unless injuries forced his presence. Did Pagano see something that Pees has yet to recognize?
Originally signed as an undrafted free agent with the Atlanta Falcons Ayanbadejo was looked at mostly as a special teams player with situational upside on defense. After bouncing around the NFL spending time with the Falcons, Bears, Ravens, Dolphins, bears again and then signing with the Ravens once again in 2008 Brendon earned the tag of a journeyman specialist. He even spent a good amount of time in the CFL, playing with four different teams. Through out that time he has earned three trips to the Pro Bowl (2006,2007,2008) and two All-Pro selections (2006,2008) all for his special teams prowess.
Brendon has always been a hard nosed player that plays bigger and faster than he is listed. He is a very sure tackler and is great in pass coverage due to his great speed and fine physical physique, which is constantly on display if you ever watch the locker room videos after the games at BR.com. Although undersized for his position standing 6'1" and weighing in at a slight 228 lbs. he never seems over matched by bigger, stronger NFL running backs and tight ends. He even manages to use his speed to get by huge offensive linemen to bring pressure on blitzing situations.
When Pagano was here he obviously saw something in the aging linebacker as he used him frequently on passing downs, third and long and such. Sometimes he would even sub in for the great Ray Lewis , who has struggled in pass protection in his recent years. I'm not sure what exactly changed this season with the new coaching staff. Maybe they saw him as such a valuable special teams contributor that they did not want to wear him out by playing him on defense frequently as well. With the new emphasis on special teams play in 2012 after the poor performance last season the team may be depending more and more on him to be the heart and sole of that group.
On the other hand, it could be that Dean Pees sees him strictly as a special teams player and the Ravens really want to see what they have in Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe with Ray Lewis slowly nearing the end of his career. Ayanbadejo is 36 years old after all and is certainly not seen as a potential replacement for anyone on the defense in the future.
All I know is that, if it wasn't for his play in the fourth quarter and over-time last Sunday, the game could have had a very different outcome. He was constantly in the right place at the right time. When he did find himself in position to make plays he did so with very sure tackling against much larger players, forcing the Chargers 3rd downs to be third and seven instead of third and three. With his speed and veteran savvy he smelled out plays before they even happened and kept up with speedy receivers and tight ends to make huge plays for the defense.
Now, it could have been that coming off the bench with a fresh pair of legs and little to no wear and tear on his finely chizzled body gave him an advantage over players that were sure to be worn out after a long, tough, hard hitting game that was headed into over time. Or it could be that the Chargers were simply not prepared for his speed after facing the other Ravens linebackers all game but the fact is he came in and played lights out, just as he did for Pagano last season. Brendon is by no means an every down player at this point in his career but he could most certainly be considered as a situational player once again to be brought in on obvious passing situations to cover a tight end or slot receiver.
What do you think Ravens Nation? Would you like to see more B.A. on the defensive side of the ball over the next few weeks?