Daelin Hayes pulled no punches describing his first training camp with the Ravens.
"That was the hardest six weeks of my life," Hayes said. "I'll keep it honest with y'all."
The demanding camp didn't break Hayes. In fact he flourished, showing his potential to be an impact rookie as a fifth-round pick at outside linebacker.
Hayes kept showing up in the opponent's backfield during practices, preseason games and joint practices with the Carolina Panthers. His ability to dip his body low without losing speed coming off the edge is already becoming a signature move. It showed during the preseason finale against Washington, when Hayes blew past tackle David Sharpe and chased quarterback Steven Montez out of the pocket, forcing Montez to chuck the football early to avoid a sack.
The Ravens are looking forward to seeing more playmaking from Hayes starting Week 1 against the Las Vegas Raiders, and Outside Linebackers Coach Drew Wilkins believe they will. Hayes will have to earn his reps as part of a deep rotation at outside linebacker that also includes Tyus Bowser, Pernell McPhee, Justin Houston, Jaylon Ferguson, and first-round pick Odafe Oweh.
However, it's not just Hayes' pass-rushing ability that impresses the Ravens. It's his overall game. He has the athleticism and awareness to drop into pass coverage effectively, and the tenacity to defend the run.
Notre Dame has been an excellent training ground for defensive players in recent years, and Hayes plans to continue that trend.
The Fighting Irish took advantage of Hayes' versatility in college, dropping him into pass coverage, as well as asking him to rush the quarterback. The Ravens have similar plans, viewing Hayes as the kind of player who fits well into Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale's scheme.
"They used him in a lot of different roles, and that plays right into our strengths here, if he can do all those things," Wilkins said. "When he did get one-on-one opportunities, he made the most of them, but they also weren't afraid to drop him in coverage, weren't afraid to have him as a run player [on] first and second down. So, he wasn't just a 'DPR' guy – designated pass rush guy – like some of those guys you see in college. He did it all, which really prepared him for this level."
Wilkins has thrown plenty at Hayes since rookie camp, but he has been a fast learner who rarely looks confused on hesitant. Hayes said he's been helped plenty by Ravens veterans, including Bowser, Houston and McPhee, who have been willing to share their knowledge.
"I firmly believe that Ty-Bo (Bowser) is the best dropping outside linebacker in the NFL," Hayes said. "When we go into our film sessions, I'm in class with eight of the best professors in football, whether it be Coach Wilkins, Phee, Ty-Bo, Justin Houston, we're all learning from each other."
The Ravens had three fifth-round draft picks this year, but Hayes is the only one remaining with the team. Cornerback Shaun Wade was traded to the New England Patriots, while fullback Ben Mason was signed to the Patriots' practice squad after being cut by the Ravens.
That's another indication of how stiff the competition was to be part of the Ravens' roster, and while Hayes was never viewed as a player on the bubble, he doesn't take his presence for granted. After roster cuts were made this week, Hayes said the realization he had made the roster sunk in during a talk with veteran defensive back Anthony Levine Sr. Now Hayes wants to make his mark as a consistent contributor on defense.
"We had a conversation and I was like, 'I guess y'all don't do that on the Ravens,'" Hayes said. "He was like 'Nah bro, we don't do that. You're a Raven.' At that moment, hearing it from a vet, it was surreal.
"You talk about the Raven brotherhood, the price that you have to pay day in and day out, it's real. This was my childhood favorite team, it means a lot to me. It means everything to me to be out with the vets, to be out with the coaches, to be out here in this organization."