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The Next Great Ravens Defender?

Posted Aug 16, 2014

Rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley has wildly impressed, and is in line to start Week 1.


There’s a hallway at the Under Armour Performance Center that has the pictures of all the Ravens’ Pro Bowlers in franchise history. It stretches from the cafeteria to the locker room, a well-traveled path.

There’s a trend in those pictures. Year after year, there are several defenders depicted, several high draft picks: Ray Lewis, Peter Boulware, Chris McAlister, Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs and Haloti Ngata.

When Ravens rookie inside linebacker C.J. Mosley walks past that wall, he looks up at those pictures.

“I think about the legacy that started with the Ravens, and the legacy I have the potential to leave for myself,” Mosley said.

Mosley has played just one NFL preseason game, so it’s far too premature to say he’s going to join those ranks. He’s still got a lot of work to do, a lot of games to play.

But all those who have watched Mosley at Ravens training camp this summer say the youngster has the potential.

“We knew the player that we were getting [when we drafted him]. We didn’t know the extent of how good he was going to be,” Inside Linebackers Coach Don Martindale said. “I think it’s just [a matter of] time. He’s going to be a really good player.”

Mosley is currently in line to start in Week 1 against the Cincinnati Bengals – a high honor. No defensive rookie has immediately jumped into the starting lineup since defensive tackle Haloti Ngata in 2006.

Ngata was the 12th-overall pick in 2006. Mosley is the highest Ravens selection since then at 17th overall.

Mosley is already on one wall at his alma mater Alabama. All first-round draft picks get their jersey hung up there. Now Mosley is looking to join the Ravens’ Pro Bowl wall. He was asked if he believes he’ll be up there someday.

“If I keep doing what I’m doing now and God keeps blessing me, then yeah,” Mosley said. “I have no limitations on myself. The only thing that can stop me, besides injuries, is me.”

Mosley isn’t your typical rookie for three primary reasons. He has the instincts of a longtime veteran, he has standout physical makeup, and he has an unusual cool confidence.

Mosley’s instincts were evident in his first preseason game. On the game’s second drive, Mosley saw a run to Carlos Hyde coming and flew through a hole way faster than 49ers two-time Pro Bowl left guard Mike Iupati was expecting. Mosley tripped up Hyde at the line of scrimmage.

“He’s a very smooth, fluid mover, which means he’s reading the scheme well,” Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. “Guys that are herky-jerky movers are guys that have to react to something real quick. Guys that already see the picture before it happens move smoother. Those are guys that are really, really good players. They can anticipate, they already kind of know what’s coming, so they make it look effortless. He’s like that.”

Mosley fine-tuned those instincts as the leader of Alabama’s ferocious defense, but Pees said it’s something players are often born with or without.

“He’s been here for three-plus months, and it seems like he’s been here three years,” Martindale said. “He catches on to everything real fast; he’s very instinctive. When plays break down, the decisions that he makes are really good decisions.”

Mosley’s physical tools stand out, as well. The 6-foot-2, 235-pounder runs sideline to sideline to make tackles. He logged 109 stops in his final year at Alabama, including nine for loss and 61 solo.

But it’s his movement in pass coverage that separates him from a lot of linebackers, and makes him capable of succeeding in this pass-happy age of the NFL. The way Mosley glides backwards and his leaping ability stands out from the rest.

“He is a natural, man – looks like he covers ground out there really well,” quarterback Joe Flacco noticed.

Players can have the physical tools and the smarts to make it work, but their attitude often makes or breaks whether that talent buds or browns. Mosley’s demeanor never changes – good or bad.

When General Manager Ozzie Newsome called Mosley right before their draft pick was announced, even the mild-tempered Newsome razzed Mosley about not being able to get any excitement from him.

After Mosley’s preseason debut, in which he led the team in tackles and notched a sack, the rookie – in his rather monotone, deep voice – told reporters that he wasn’t really nervous before the game and that he just did his job.

“I’m not a loud guy if people haven’t already noticed,” Mosley said, adding that he gets it from his mother. “But I always try to wear my last name loud and proud.”

Mosley gets that inner pride from his father and namesake, Clint Mosley Sr.

“He always said, ‘You’ve only got two things: your word and your last name. Nobody can take your last name from you,’” Mosley said. “So I’m going to do everything I can and do the right things, so when I leave this earth my last name will have a great legacy with it.”

There’s a pressure that comes along with being a high draft pick, especially one playing the same position as a man about to get a statue in front of M&T Bank Stadium – No. 52. Even the weight to be an immediate starter is immense. Last year’s top draft pick, safety Matt Elam, felt it. He became a starter in Week 2.

“It’s a lot of pressure because you want prove to the coaches and the fans that you’re ready for that opportunity,” Elam said.

So does Elam think Mosley is ready for it?

“When I watched him play in college, I already felt like he’d be ready,” Elam said. “He seems like he doesn’t have any pressure. He was confident before he even got here.”

Martindale was asked what Mosley needs to do to become the kind of player everybody in Baltimore imagines. He said it’s just a matter of playing more games.

Mosley was asked if he has found anything to be difficult so far. He stroked his goatee and thought for a second. “No, I can’t say there has been. It’s just football, really,” he said.

“A lot of people say I’m going to be the next Ray Lewis. I’m not going to think that way. I just want to be the best player I can be. If my career is 17 years, it’s 17 years. If it’s 10 years, it’s 10 years, and I’m going to make sure those 10 years are the best and I gave everything I have.”


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