Brendon Ayanbadejo takes pride in being a leader of the Ravens special teams unit. The 10-year veteran's stellar play on special teams has earned him three Pro Bowl selections and a reputation as one of the NFL's elite special teamers
But that's not all he is.
Ayanbadejo resents the notion that all he brings to the game is contributions on kick and punt coverage.
"First and foremost, I'm a football player, then I'm a linebacker and then I'm a special teamer," Ayanbadejo said. "My goal was always to be the best at something in the NFL and it just happened to be special teams. I'm a linebacker first."
Ayanbadejo put his linebacking skills on display during the Ravens preseason opener last week in Atlanta. He started at inside linebacker in place of Ray Lewis and was one of the team's top performers.
He finished with a team-high four tackles and also picked off Falcons starting quarterback Matt Ryan as Atlanta was inside the red zone. Ayanbadejo then returned the interception 40 yards, showing off his speed and ability to move with the football.
"It was good to get out there and play defense and show people a little bit of what I have and the type of football player that I am, not just a special teamer," Ayanbadejo said.
After the interception return, Ayanbadejo had a little fun with his celebration, as he popped up from the turf and did his own rendition of former Falcons running back Jamal Anderson's "Dirty Bird" dance. Ayanbadejo, who was cut by the Falcons during the 1999 preseason, joked that he had been waiting for an opportunity to bust out the dance.
"I had to go out there and do a little something," Ayanbadejo joked. "I've been saving that since 1999."
Ayanbadejo has been with the Ravens since 2008, and during that time he has provided depth among the linebacking corps in addition to his work as a special teamer. Last year he registered 27 tackles, 1.5 sacks and one fumble recovery during his time on the defense.
"He is a guy that throughout his career they said couldn't play defense," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He has pretty much proved them wrong, and obviously once again on Thursday night did a great job."
As the 35-year-old Ayanbadejo goes through his 11th NFL training camp, he said that his focus is to continue developing his game – and that goes beyond his work on the specials teams unit.
"It's all about evolving and it's all about getting better and continuing your education," Ayanbadejo said. "You're not just going to be here if you didn't have skills in some other category like receiver, running back, linebacker, defensive end, whatever it is. You're a football player first, and then my role just happens to be special teams."