A combination of a departure in free agency and several injuries has the Baltimore Ravens turning to rookie Za'Darius Smith as their top edge pass rusher for Sunday's game at San Francisco.
During the offseason, Pernell McPhee signed with Chicago. Terrell Suggs' season ended in Week 1 with an Achilles injury, and former Louisville star Elvis Dumervil hasn't practiced all week after suffering a groin injury against Cleveland.
Smith, a fourth-round pick out of Kentucky, is the next man up.
In a report on the Ravens' website, Smith said the attrition is "not a good thing, but it just gives us young guys a chance. That's what I got drafted for is to come here as an outside linebacker and rush the passer and set the edge. I know I can get it done."
Smith was a healthy scratch in the team's season opener against Denver, but his playing time has increased steadily since then.
He had four tackles, including back-to-back sacks on Mike Vick, two weeks ago against Pittsburgh. According to the Ravens' website, he got his best rating (plus-1.3) of the season from Pro Football Focus.
The loss of Dumervil led Smith to get 72 of the team's 90 snaps against the Browns.last weekend. Smith had two tackles, but no quarterback sacks, hurries or hits, according to Pro Football Focus.
But defensive coordinator Dean Pees said in the Ravens' report that he liked one play where Smith tracked about 10 yards back down the field to make an open-field tackle.
"That tells me enough about the guy," Pees said. "I love a guy like that. ... I'm really pleased with the guy. I think he's just going to keep getting better and better."