During five seasons with the Ravens, Ryan Jensen soaked up plenty of knowledge from retired Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda. As Jensen prepares for Super Bowl Sunday as the starting center for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, he remembers a piece of advice he got from Yanda, one of the best players in Ravens history.
"With young guys, I tell them to find the way that they play and elevate that," Jensen said during a Super Bowl week videoconference. "Marshal Yanda used to tell me that all the time when I was back in Baltimore as a younger player, watching the way he operated and played the game. He always told me to find that style of play that fits you and run with it."
Jensen has never missed a start in three seasons with the Buccaneers after signing with them as a free agent in 2018. During his tenure with the Ravens, Jensen progressed from being an unheralded sixth-round pick in 2013 from Colorado-Pueblo to being Baltimore's starting center in 2017. He parlayed his final season in Baltimore into big money, signing a four-year reported $42 million contract with Tampa Bay during free agency to become the NFL’s highest-paid center at the time.
Jensen's fiery attitude made him a Ravens fan favorite. One of his most memorable moments occurred during a game against the Miami Dolphins when he slammed linebacker Kiko Alonso to the turf after he hit quarterback Joe Flacco late during a slide.
With his signature long, curly red hair, Jensen played with an edge in Baltimore and he still does in Tampa Bay. He never let anyone mess with Flacco, and he is just as protective of Tom Brady. As a late-round draft pick from a small school not known for its football prowess, Jensen has always felt he had something to prove.
"My freshman year, I started at left tackle at 235 pounds," Jensen said. "All I had was my ability to play intense, play physical, play through the whistle. That's how I survived. As I grew as a player size-wise and skill-wise, it just stuck with me. That's how I know to play football, with that kind of intensity, with that kind of fire. That's made me the player I am."
Now Jensen is preparing for the biggest game of his life. He felt this could be a special season after the Buccaneers signed Brady, a six-time Super Bowl winner, during the offseason. In his first telephone conversation with Brady, Jensen knew things would be different.
"When he first called me after we had signed him, we talked about normal everyday things for about three minutes," Jensen said. "Then it went straight to business."
Being Brady's center means new habits for Jensen. He now wears a towel coated with baby powder inside his pants during games, to keep the football dry when snapping it. Brady does not like throwing a sweaty football, and he even showed Jensen the most effective way to fold the towel before stuffing it down his pants.
Jensen also no longer wears a glove on his right hand like he used to during games, following Brady's instructions.
"I used to wear a glove on my hand," Jensen said. "I used to cut the tips of the fingers off, and he said, 'Hey, do you always wear a glove?' I was like, 'Yeah.' He goes, 'Alright, you're not going to wear a glove anymore.'
"Little quirky things like that. Attention to detail on things you wouldn't think would matter that much, but with Tom, that's why he's been so successful because he pays so much attention to those minor details, things that can help him be a better quarterback."
Jensen remembers his Baltimore days fondly, but he has found what he desired with Tampa Bay – financial security and a chance to win a Super Bowl. He plans to provide Brady with the protection he needs to win another championship.
"Kansas City, they kind of bring blitzes all over the field," Jensen said. "That's going to be a big challenge for us.
"But with Tom, there's that sense of confidence of success that he has built over the years. Even last year, I felt like we were close if we had cleaned some stuff up to being a top contender. Then you bring in a guy like Tom, the best of the best, and instantly you have that confidence as a player that you're going to have this opportunity."