Chris Board is familiar with exceeding expectations.
When he joined the Ravens as an undrafted inside linebacker last year, Board was a longshot to make the team. Then practices started, and Board kept having one strong day after another. Then the preseason started, and Board kept making plays at linebacker and on special teams.
Board led the Ravens with 30 preseason tackles in 2018, and instead of getting cut, he became a Raven. Now entering his second season, Board knows people are wondering if he's ready for a bigger role, playing more snaps on defense after the departure of Pro Bowl inside linebacker C.J. Mosley during free agency.
Board doesn't hide his surprise about Mosley signing with the New York Jets.
"I was a little shocked liked everybody else," Board said. "I thought he would sign back as well. But it is what it is. You have to adapt and adjust."
Life after Mosley is well underway during OTAs. Patrick "Peanut" Onwuasor has moved into Mosley's former middle linebacker role, while Kenny Young and Board are playing opposite Onwuasor. Head Coach John Harbaugh likes how the young linebackers have stepped up, knowing it's their time.
"I know there's a lot of talk about the linebacker position," Harbaugh said. "I'm not worried about it one bit. I like the guys we have. The guys we have are going to be more than good enough. I think they're going to play great, and I think you're going to be talking about a lot of these guys."
Hearing the head coach support the linebacker group so adamantly got Board's attention. Both Harbaugh and Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale have made it clear that the door is open for young defensive players to step up. The Ravens lost talent and experience when Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, Za'Darius Smith, Brent Urban and Mosley all departed during free agency. However, the expectation for excellence on the Ravens' defense doesn't change, no matter who stays or goes.
"[Wink] said in the defensive meeting that there's big shoes to fill with Eric, Sizz and C.J. leaving," Board said. "There's definitely an opportunity for young players to step in and make a name for ourselves. We all embrace it and we're ready for a challenge.
"Wink spoke with me about coming in, stepping up and expanding my role, especially compared to last year. He definitely told me I'll have a bigger role on defense. My biggest stride would be in my communication. I definitely am more vocal this year. It's not just knowing my position but knowing everyone else's position as well."
Board was a fixture on special teams as a rookie, leading the team with 356 special teams snaps. However, he played just 14 snaps on defense, leaving him with plenty to learn. Board plans to lean on the experience of Onwuasor and Young, who played 369 defensive snaps as a rookie. Meanwhile, being an impactful player on a winning team is something Board is familiar with. He won three FCS Division I national championships in college at North Dakota State, earning a reputation as both a playmaker and leader.
The Ravens have a history of undrafted linebackers who have become important players on both defense and special teams, a list that includes Onwuasor, Bart Scott, Albert McClellan, Jameel McClain, and Assistant Linebackers Coach Zachary Orr.
Board could be the next one in line, and he has reported to OTAs in great shape, having put on seven-to-eight pounds of muscle. Just like last season, when he made the roster as an undrafted free agent, Board feels ready to surprise anyone who doubts the Ravens' linebacker corps.
"You definitely have to pay your dues on special teams before you can think about stepping onto the field on defense," Board said. "I feel like I'm one of the guys that could be next in the lineage of free agent linebackers that have done really well here. I'm ready to see what happens."