|ESPN.com: AFC North||[Print without images]|
Posted by ESPN.com's James Walker
WESTMINSTER, Md. -- The history of replacing linebackers in the heralded Baltimore Ravens' defense is well-documented.
First, Ed Hartwell was in the spotlight. Then Hartwell was replaced by Adalius Thomas. Once Thomas left, Bart Scott stepped in and kept Baltimore's tradition of tough linebackers going. Now the Ravens are looking for somebody to replace Scott, who signed with the New York Jets this offseason.
Enter Tavares Gooden.
Nicknamed "Baby Ray," the 2008 third-round pick is expected to start at inside linebacker next to mentor and future Hall of Famer Ray Lewis. Lewis helped bring along Hartwell, Thomas and Scott, and the Ravens hope Gooden can uphold that same high standard for Baltimore.
"I can't wait for the season to start," an excited Gooden said. "I'm just looking forward to it. I'm looking forward to being out there with last season ending so quickly."
Gooden suffered a season-ending hip injury as a rookie and played in just four games. He contributed just five tackles in his short span, while the Ravens went on to advance to the AFC title game with Gooden watching from the sidelines.
"Taking a full year off hurts you mentally, because you want to be out there with your team," Gooden said. "You see your teammates out there sweating and you know that you put in work, too. It was just tough, because you see your teammates out there making their run and you just want to be a part of it."
Gooden is expected to be a large part of Baltimore's plans in 2009. Gooden said that he watched Scott's tapes in the offseason and talked to him several times about filling that inside linebacker role.
In addition to being a full-time starter for the first time, Gooden also will be playing under his second defensive coordinator in two years. The Ravens are transitioning from former longtime defensive coordinator Rex Ryan, who became head coach of the Jets, to new defensive coordinator Greg Mattison. According to Gooden, the styles of defense are not drastically different.
The Ravens finished second in total defense last year, and a big part of continuing that success will be how well Gooden handles his new starting role in his second season.
"Like I tell people, I was never coming out here to try to replace [Scott]," Gooden explains. "It was just to fulfill my own legacy to have my name talked about in Baltimore also, just like Bart and Ray."