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Will Age Catch Up With the Ravens Defensive Line?

Team has several veterans on roster.

OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Ravens have a veteran-laden defensive line that is among the best in the NFL.

However, three of their key players — Brandon Williams, Calais Campbell and Derek Wolfe — are over 30 years old. 

With the 17-game season, these players will be under more pressure. 

Ravens coach John Harbaugh has no concerns about their ability to stay on the field. 

"I definitely feel like guys are highly motivated," Harbaugh said. "You can’t be in the league this long and play at the level that those guys you’re talking about are playing at and not be just completely highly motivated, and they are. Unfinished business is a term, I guess you could apply it. There are a lot of ways to say it, but [they’re] highly motivated guys. You can tell they’re in shape and they’re ready to go."

Williams, 32, fills a key role in stopping the run, but this could be his final season in Baltimore. He's played a 16-game season four times over his career. Last season, he missed three games with an ankle injury. 

“Right now, all I’m worried about is year nine," Williams said. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. But right now, we have a bad taste to get out of our mouths, and we plan on doing that starting today.”

Campbell, 34, suffered a calf injury in Week 9 against the Indianapolis Colts. He was later placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and missed four games. 

Campbell has been one of the league's most durable players. He snapped a streak of 98 consecutive starts when he was ruled out for the Week 10 game against the Patriots.

The Ravens acquired Campbell from Jacksonville for a 2020 fifth-round pick in March. Campbell, 33, had 31.5 sacks, 44 tackles for loss, six forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries over 48 games for the Jaguars.

Last season, he 28 tackles, four sacks, 10 quarterback hits, five tackles for a loss and six passes defensed over 12 games.  

Campbell admits the 17-game schedule will be a challenge.

"I’m sure it’s going to have a lot of unintended consequences, from the standpoint of just … Usually, you say to yourself you have to win 10 games," Campbell said. "Ten games is kind of the floor to get into a position to get to the playoffs. I guess this year, you have to say at least – minimum – 11 [games]. And even then, there are years when [teams] won 10 games and didn’t get in, but that was kind of like the number you wanted to get to. 

"So, the pace you go at during the season and just how every game matters, I feel like there are going to be a lot of changes when it comes to having that extra game there. Every game is important, always, but hopefully it gives us the opportunity – if we needed – to be able to win that extra ballgame to get in, if we need to, if it’s a deciding factor."

Wolfe, 31, signed a new three-year, $12 million deal this offseason. He tied a career-high with 51 tackles and finished with one sack, six tackles for a loss, four quarterback hits, one fumble recovery and two passes defended over 14 games.

Wolfe was held out of the Week 4 victory over the Washington Football Team for precautionary measures related to COVID-19.

Wolfe made $3 million last season and the Ravens decided he was worth a raise. At this point of his career, Wolfe's main focus is winning another Super Bowl after hoisting the Lombardi Trophy with the Denver Broncos in the 2015 season.

“I came here because I wanted to get back to winning football games," Wolfe said. "That’s why you play the game. When I started playing this game when I was seven years old, I started playing because I liked to win. So, unfortunately, I had the rough four years in Denver – we weren’t winning football games. It made me really not love the game anymore.

"When you can go win playoff games and have a chance to go win that Super Bowl … Because once you win one, it’s like a drug; you want it again. And when that opportunity really isn’t there, and you know you don’t have the team that can really do it, it’s heartbreaking, and it’s hard to get up every day and go do it. But when you're on a team that has the players, the coaching staff, an organization that’s fully invested in winning a Super Bowl, it makes it fun." 

Williams and Campbell are unrestricted free agents in 2022. The Ravens have some young players, such as Justin Madubuike and Broderick Washington, that could also play a bigger role this season. 

The goal is for the older players to make a run at a Super Bowl.

"I kind of take it one year at a time, and I know that I’ve got this year in me, for sure," Campbell said. "I’m going to give everything I have this year, and then we’ll re-evaluate once the season ends. But it’s definitely something you think about. ‘When?’ And I used to always say when I was younger that I wanted to play 15 [years]. I didn’t realize how hard 15 was going to be; I think I was a little young. But this is 14 for me, and I know I’ve got this in me, for sure. But I still would like to play 15, so hopefully I’ve got another one. So, we’ll see.”