Baltimore Ravens linebacker Kamalei Correa was a bit of an enigma last season. He was an under-the-radar prospect before the Ravens drafted him in the second round after trading back twice. Correa received praise throughout minicamp and the early portion of training camp as a versatile rookie who had the ability to play both outside and inside linebacker. Once the regular season began, he lined up on less than five percent of the Ravens defensive snaps.
This should be a positive development for both the Ravens and Correa. Correa was regarded as a quick twitch athlete with a good motor coming out of Boise State. In practice he flashed speed, but once the pads went on he had some issues holding the edge against the run. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees basically admitted he cross trained Correa too much as a rookie instead of allowing him to master one linebacker position at a time.
Correa struggled to find his niche among a crowded linebacker corps. C.J. Mosley had Pro Bowl year as the ‘Mike’ middle linebacker and defensive signal caller. Zachary Orr locked up the weak side ‘Will’ inside linebacker spot and was a second team All-Pro. Stalwart outside linebacker Terrell Suggs played 66-percent of all defensive snaps, while Albert McClellan manned the opposite edge on most run downs before Elvis Dumervil returned from injury late in the season. Fifth round rookie Matt Judon and Za’Darius Smith played ahead of Correa in the rotation as well, combining for over 800 defensive snaps.
Now that an unfortunate spinal condition has forced Orr into an early retirement, the Ravens are in need of a starter beside Mosley. Kamalei and C.J. could form a playmaking tandem inside with Mosley roaming sideline-to-sideline and Correa using his burst to shoot gaps into the backfield or drop into zone coverage.
After Harbaugh’s comments, Correa seems to be the frontrunner to start at inside linebacker but he is not the only in-house option. McClellan is a stout run defender who can sub in for short yardage and goal line plays. And fellow second year player Patrick Onwuasor may be able to contribute on pass defense as a nickel linebacker.
If Correa can succeed at inside linebacker, the Ravens will have effectively killed two birds with one stone. They will have mined production from a valuable former second round pick. Perhaps more importantly, they are free to earmark their draft resources next month for other needy areas of the depth chart.