Adalius Thomas had some mighty good mentors his rookie year.
Thomas was drafted by the Ravens in the sixth round in 2000 and immediately joined one of the best defenses in NFL history. With the veterans' help, he eventually earned two Pro Bowls and logged 38.5 sacks in seven years in Baltimore.
It's been 17 years since Thomas was an NFL rookie, and now he's moved into the role of teacher. Thomas has worked with the Ravens as an interim coach since the start of training camp, and it will end this week with the start of the preseason.
He's especially worked with the team's two rookie pass rushers: second-round pick Tyus Bowser and third-round pick Tim Williams. Thomas said he has been "wowed" by the two rookies in his two-plus weeks with them.
"They've very athletic. They both can run," Thomas said. "Their ability to bend, get around the corner and the physicality of their punch. It's very impressive."
Here's what Thomas said stood out most about each rookie:
Bowser: "Tyus, it's a culmination of many skills. His ability and his physicality coming off the ball. He has a strong punch. His ability to bend is probably what impresses me the most. He's quick off the ball, but then he bends and he's low. His ability to bend is probably the biggest surprise."
Williams: "Tim's change of direction. His ability to get off the ball and go inside or fake inside or stay outside … his ability to change directions in a small area is very impressive. His ability to get off the ball and bring speed and power is what I've noticed."
Thomas hasn't done as much of the hands-on coaching. That's left to Linebackers Coach Don "Wink" Martindale, who is among the best in the business and beloved by the players.
But Thomas tried to take on the leadership role that he received when he was just a "young pup." He's teaching them the things he didn't fully appreciate until late in his career.
"It's understanding what it's like to be a pro, letting them know what they need to work on and developing their skillset," Thomas said.
"One of the things I talk to them about is coming out to practice with a purpose. Every day you can't practice everything. You have to try to focus on one or two things that I was bad at last practice. You try to correct those errors practice after practice. Then you build off that."
Thursday night's preseason opener at M&T Bank Stadium against the Washington Redskins will be a big new test for the pair of rookies. Training camp rarely goes "live" for full contact and tackling, and it will be their first chance to fully show what they can offer this year.
Martindale said Williams has been very impressive in camp and he's excited about Bowser, but warned reporters to pump the brakes. For now, Terrell Suggs and Matthew Judon are still the Ravens' top two outside linebackers.
"Are you excited about them? Yeah," Martindale said. "But, you can't really crown anybody yet on exactly where they are at until we start playing some preseason games."