Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale always told his tight-knit unit that change would be coming. It happens every offseason for every team.
Then C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and Za’Darius Smith all landed elsewhere.
“To be honest, I didn’t really think it was going to change that much,” inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor said Tuesday.
The Ravens weren’t banking on that many departures either, as they made strong bids to keep Mosley and Suggs, in particular. But here we are, and Baltimore isn’t jamming down the panic button, in part because it has young, talented players such as Onwuasor (“Peanut”).
As he enters his fourth season, Onwuasor will become a relied upon playmaker and leader in the middle of Baltimore’s defense. The past two years, he complemented Mosley well. Now Onwuasor is preparing to fill his shoes.
“I know it’s always a business, so it kind of hurt a little bit,” Onwuasor said of Mosley’s departure. “He reached out to us and let us know how much he cared about us, how much he loved us. I’m still going to text him. I still do text him. Any question I have, he’s a phone call away. Nothing is really going to change.”
Asked whether he instantly felt more weight on his shoulders, Onwuasor shrugged it off and was modest. He said he still expects a rotation between himself and second-year linebackers Kenny Young and Chris Board.
But there’s no doubt that after Onwuasor’s eye-opening third season, the Ravens will expect even more in Year 4. He’s been building toward it for the past two seasons.
In 2017, Onwuasor made 90 tackles, second-most on the defense behind Mosley’s 132. Last year, Onwausor dropped to 59 tackles but made more splash plays. He had 5.5 sacks, one interception and two forced fumbles, which were both returned for key fourth-quarter touchdowns in road wins over the Falcons and Chargers.
In the Ravens’ Wild-Card loss to the Chargers, Onwuasor may have been the best Ravens defender on the field. He notched seven tackles, one sack and forced another fumble.
Baltimore rewarded him with a reported second-round tender this offseason, showing how much they value the former undrafted product out of Portland State. That goes a long way for Onwuasor, who said confidence has been the biggest driver of his breakout.
“That’s one thing that Wink kind of tried to beat me up about was, ‘You have to have confidence when you step on that field,’” Onwuasor said.
“I think as the time progressed with me and ‘Wink,’ I always felt more confident in myself every year going into it, just him trusting me and just having that open conversation with C.J., like ‘You can do it. I’ve seen you do it before.’ So, just confidence, I think, leading into next year would probably be great.”
There are three other primary steps Onwuasor is planning to take in taking over for Mosley.
One is potentially wearing the headset during games. Mosley and Weddle split duties last year relaying the play calls to the rest of the defense. It’s not a huge responsibility because everybody communicates but being the first in the chain does have some meaning.
“I’m really comfortable wearing the headset. I wore it in practice,” Onwuasor said.
A bigger transition would be moving from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker – the spot Mosley manned for the past five seasons. Onwuasor said he previously spent some time learning both positions, and he’ll have a full offseason to dial in with coaches.
Onwuasor’s other offseason goal is to improve as a leader. It’s not just Mosley’s on-field brilliance that’s gone, but his often-understated leadership was the biggest lesson Onwuasor said he took away from playing beside him.
“I think that’s one thing I have to start learning how to build is leadership,” Onwuasor said, adding that veteran safety addition Earl Thomas has already offered to help.
“That’s something that I kind of shy away from. I’m kind of soft-spoken. I like staying away a bit. I think if I start working on my leadership, it would probably be great for us.”