I know, I know. "What's this guy smoking?", right? Hear me out.
I think Chris Crocker was more important to our defense last year than anyone not on the field can fully appreciate.Traditionally the middle linebacker is a team's "defensive quarterback", but not always. Ray Lewis is unquestionably the leader of the Ravens' defense. But look at the Steelers' defense....the leader there is Polamalu, without a doubt. I think Chris Crocker filled that role on our defense.
Being brutally honest, our defense this year has looked like an episode of The Three Stooges (more like 11 Stooges, but you get my point). Not only do they not look to be on the same page, but I sometimes question whether they're even reading the same book. They are in desperate need of a true leader.
Rey Maualuga has looked absolutely lost this season, and I suspect it is because he's being expected to fill that leadership role and he just isn't good at it. Rey is at his best when he's playing by instinct, ask him to think too much about what everyone else is doing and he starts second guessing everything and starts making dumb decisions with his own play. I suspect his play will improve when Crocker is back on the field taking that leadership pressure off of him.
I don't think Crocker is that stellar of a safety when his individual performance is considered. In fact he's pretty average in that regard. What he brings to the table is leadership and a unifying force. His value isn't in his awesome individual effort, it's in the fact that he's just one of those guys who makes everyone around him play better. And I think our defense has sorely missed that.
He's honestly the best signing they could have made, for a few reasons:
1) He already knows the defense. I saw the arguments about how long it takes to learn a defensive scheme, and I thought the whole argument was ridiculous. It doesn't matter if it takes a day, a week, or a month. Chris Crocker is the only available safety whose time to learn the system is 0.
2) He really is a defensive leader. I elaborated on that above, so I won't go into it again here.
3) His teammates already respect him. It doesn't matter how good a leader someone is if the people he's telling what to do don't have respect for him. Do you think some random safety would get signed and immediately start telling our defense what to do on the field in his first start? Not a chance. No one is going to join ANY team and have his teammates listen to him right away. Respect and trust in their ability has to be earned first. Crocker already has that trust and respect.
This is all purely my opinion of course. Like many of you, I was clamoring to get rid of him last season. I'm starting to suspect that we were all dead wrong about that. None of us can definitively point to any one thing that caused our defense to fall apart between one season and the next, especially since we have most of the same guys playing on it. But when you look at defensive players that were lost in the offseason, I think Crocker was the most crucial. Rucker and Fanene weren't really leaders, and they weren't on the field every down. Crocker WAS on the field every down, or just about every down. I think this site as a whole grossly underestimated what exactly he contributed to this team. We all got hung up on a stretch of bad play on his part and overlooked what else he was doing on the field, which was providing trusted leadership ability and making sure our defense was a cohesive unit instead of 11 individual guys chasing a ball.
That's my 2 cents.