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Ravens revival: Who has most to prove on Ravens defense

The Ravens have a lot to prove this season after a disappointing 2013 season in which they finished 8-8. Who has the most to prove on the defense going into 2014?

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Evan Habeeb-USA TODAY Sports

Google search "a lot to prove" and Eric Decker, Titans' Marc Mariani and Bills' offensive tackle Chris Hairston are the first three NFL players to show up on your laptop screen. What are the determinants of a player with "a lot to prove"?

A wide receiver who played with a future Hall of Fame quarterback in 2013, shredded defenses, got noticed and signed a booty-popping, five-year, $36.25 million deal with the Jets?

If "a lot to prove" is another way of saying "a lot of pressure," Decker, who definitely will be the Gang Green's go-to guy, fits the bill. He's in New York now, where harsh criticism permeates the city air and seeps down to the metro lines. Titans' Mariani, a seventh-round receiver who's career totals add up to five catches for 24 yards, missed back-to-back seasons with injuries since 2011. The 2010 Pro Bowl return specialist now fights for a roster spot against other spectacular returners, Dexter McCluster and Leon Washington. That's "a lot."

Offensive tackle Chris Hairston doesn't even feel like elaborating on his non-football illness, and returns to the gridiron with a vengeance.

Baltimore Ravens' columnist John Eisenburg recently said that ALL Ravens players have something to prove in 2014. They do -- but I'll take it for a different spin. Which Raven is heads above the rest, to prove (to show the existence, truth, or correctness of (something) by using evidence, logic, etc.), in 2014?

Safety Matt Elam

Eisenburg forgot to mention Elam in his piece but even that won't shake the strong safety's confidence. Elam reiterated how comfortable he is on the field making the calls in the backend and how familiar he is with the playbook. The second-year, two-legged beast better bring a lot of walk to back up his offseason talk. Last year James Ihedigbo won the race to play quarterback of the backend and now with Ihedigbo gone, Elam's ass has no excuse.

Nose tackle Haloti Ngata

The eight-year veteran has the most to prove on the Ravens defense, not Lardarius Webb. Ngata, who turned 30 in January, knows that his signature is the owner of the third-heftiest contract on the Ravens roster and is counting as the most against the salary cap this season.

Haloti Ngata signed a 4 year / $48.52 million contract with the Baltimore Ravens, including a $25,000,000 signing bonus, $27,100,000 guaranteed, and an annual average salary of $12,131,000.

Haloti will need to raise hell in the trenches entering his ninth season in order to prove that he is worth $16 million in 2014 and 2015. Regardless of what his stat sheet says, the nose tackle is a force on that defensive line and a linchpin that holds the front seven together. Offenses game plan around Ngata and still fall short. If only God added more days to the week.

Cornerback Jimmy Smith

On how high he thinks his ceiling is:

"You can't ask me that. Can you touch the sky? That's how high it is."

Love that line. Pretty obvious that the 26-year-old corner has the most to prove this year. The self-acclaimed man-to-man cornerback says that he's been studying the tape on what he could do to improve and add to his career total of four interceptions. Injuries have hampered the Ravens corner in the past. Fans can expect the healthy Smith (who saved Super Bowl XLVII), to bring the noise and play an integral role in the secondary alongside FS Terrence Brooks, Elam and Webb.