Jimmy Smith says Ravens’ defense ‘is a special unit’

The offseason hype for the Baltimore Ravens‘ defense rolls on.

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This spring, new safety Tony Jefferson said Baltimore’s defense has an opportunity to be legendary. Defensive tackle Brandon Williams said this summer the unit could reach levels of the 2000 Ravens D.

Corner added to the chorus this week.

“This year it is a special unit,” Smith said, via ESPN.com’s . “We feel it. I think the defense as a whole feels it. We know it, and like I said over and over, you have to prove now.”

The Ravens’ defense has leaped off the film during their two preseason appearances. It’s a unit that’s younger and faster than last season. Defensive coordinator Dean Pees has brought heat this preseason and swarmed quarterbacks.

The Ravens boast the No. 1 defense in the preseason through two games. It’s a meaningless stat, but the method in which they’ve attained the ranking can translate to the regular season. They held the Washington Redskins’ first-team offense to minus-1 yard on two drives two weeks ago. Against Miami last week, the starting Ravens defense allowed just 44 yards.

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As Hensley points out, owning the No. 1 defense in the preseason doesn’t necessarily translate to the regular season, with only one team in the past five years finishing in the top five for the season.

Pees, however, views it as a positive.

“To say it doesn’t mean anything, I think coaches tell you that,” Pees said. “I think that is crap. You want to go out there and you want to play well every day and every week no matter who is on the field. If it is the first team, the second team, the third team — whoever the heck that is — you want to play well. If you don’t want that, I don’t know why you are coaching, and I do not know why you are playing . Yes, I am pleased with it so far, but we just have to keep it going.”

Baltimore’s ongoing battle with injuries has been intense this offseason. Former All-Pro Zach Orr retired from the NFL due to a congenital spinal condition and Dennis Pitta (hip), Kenneth Dixon (knee), Tavon Young (knee), (knee) and Crockett Gillmore (MCL) all are slated to miss the season because of their respective injuries.

In addition, quarterback Joe Flacco hasn’t taken a snap in training camp or the preseason because of a back injury. Coach John Harbaugh, however, is confident he’ll be healthy to play in the Ravens’ season opener against the .

One would understand if Ravens fans are freaking out. It’s barely August and their team is a triage center.

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Baltimore players, however, aren’t fretting the injuries.

“At this stage of my career, I try to keep my head down and focus on what’s in the building,” guard Marshal Yanda said, via the team’s official website. “I try to tell young guys that you can’t be getting caught up in the media every day, because obviously, if you read the media, the sky is falling every day, and we aren’t going to survive until tomorrow.”

Added veteran , who was injured before the start of last season: “It always seems like your situation is the worst when you’re in it. I swear, every training camp I’m like, ‘Man, we have a lot of injuries.’ And we, in fact, do. That being said, that’s why it’s a team game. It’s incumbent upon other players to step in and play with .”

Way back in May, after the draft and free agency, the Ravens looked like a team primed to bounce back and snag a playoff berth. The attrition has hurt, but the core of a playoff-caliber team remains intact. The biggest injury to monitor is Flacco’s back, but none of the other losses are season-killers. If Flacco is healthy for 16 games, the Ravens own the depth to fight their way to a potential postseason bid.

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