In the Ravens' preseason opener against the Washington Redskins about one year ago, no player on the field performed better than defensive end Brent Urban.
In just about a quarter of action, Urban notched a sack, nearly had another, forced two fumbles and added a tackle for loss. One month and two weeks later, Urban's season was over.
There was a lot of excitement about Urban, only to watch it all dashed away by yet another season-ending injury, this time a Lisfranc (foot) fracture suffered in Week 3 in London.
Now Urban is back after re-signing a one-year deal to remain in Baltimore, and he's once again slated to be the Ravens' starting defensive end. The question is whether he can, at last, fully fulfill his great potential.
"Obviously, the timing was poor, and I was just really coming into my own, but there's a high-water mark there now, and I know what I need to do in order to get there again," Urban said.
"I guess that's the one positive I can take out of that, where I was playing the best football I've ever played, honestly. I know where I can take it."
The 6-foot-7 Canadian has tantalized the Ravens for years. A fourth-round pick in 2014, Urban reminds the Ravens of former Pittsburgh Steelers defensive end Brent Keisel, who gave opponents trouble for 13 years in the Steel City. Keisel became a full-time starter in his fifth year – the same year that Urban is entering.
Urban has ground to make up, however. He lost his entire rookie season because of a torn ACL suffered in training camp. The following year, he tore his biceps muscle in training camp, knocking him out for 10 games.
Urban played a full 16-game season in 2016 but wasn't a starter and had 10 tackles and two sacks. That set him up for a larger role last year, when he started the Ravens' first three games before his Lisfranc injury.
Urban has talked to cornerback Jimmy Smith about how to come back from a Lisfranc injury. Smith struggled recuperating , and even said last week that it was worse than his Achilles recovery. Smith called it the "gift that keeps on giving."
Urban said he doesn't think the Lisfranc rehab has been as tough as coming back from the torn ACL.
"It's nagging in that it just stays sore. You just feel it," Urban said. "At the same time, the strength component stuff, it doesn't really affect me as much, which is nice. Being inside, I still feel like I have my power. … [It] seems like a nagging injury. I'm not a stranger to injuries, and I feel like I can still fight through it no matter what."
Urban plays a critical role in the Ravens defense, and could be an integral part of improving the team's pass rush inside. Baltimore only got five sacks from its defensive linemen last year. Urban could match, or top, that by himself.
Now he just has to stay healthy. Urban said he's taken notice of other players who have been through major injuries and had great careers, such as Smith, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, guard Marshal Yanda and even Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.
"I do as much injury prevention stuff as I can, given my history, obviously," Urban said. "I honestly feel prepared, and injury prevention is just a huge part of every offseason for me."