Second-year Ravens linebacker Kamalei Correa has talked to some of this year's rookies about what they should expect in Year 1.
His advice? Get in that playbook.
Correa played in nine games and made four tackles during his rookie season. The second-round pick out of Boise State was inactive for five games and took just 49 total snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.
It was a tough year, but Correa has come back to the Under Armour Performance Center with* *renewed determination this offseason.
With the sudden retirement of inside linebacker Zachary Orr, the Ravens have an opening at WILL linebacker next to two-time Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley. Now it's up to Correa to earn it, and he's looking forward to the competition.
"It's just a night and day difference from Year 1 to Year 2," Correa said. "I can already tell the difference, and with OTAs and minicamp approaching, I guess it's going to be put to the test."
Correa spent the early part of his offseason training in his home state of Hawaii. The 6-foot-3, 250-pound linebacker has come back in great shape.
But he's feeling better than a year ago because of the improvement he's made in the mental side of the game. He knows the playbook and how he fits into the defense.
"You know how to operate the defense, you know where your help is," Correa said. "In return, it just helps you play faster. You can actually be who you were in college."
Correa was a ball-seeking missile at Boise State, where he played defensive end. He racked up 31.5 tackles for loss and 19 sacks over his sophomore and junior seasons. His speed and knack for making the play was a large reason why the Ravens picked him.
But Correa had a hard time showcasing those abilities in his rookie season. He said he felt like he was "always guessing," and it made him play slower, which hurt the entire defense.
Every rookie's learning curve is different. For some, grasping the Ravens' complex system is easier because it's similar to what they did in college. It's, in part, why Baltimore likes Alabama prospects. For others, such as Correa, it's more difficult. He said his college defense was very different and the playbook was a lot smaller.
Trying to learn the Ravens defense, shifting positions and adapting to playing special teams put a lot on Correa's plate, and it left him shuffled to the back of the depth chart. It was a tough pill to swallow.
"I'm always going to remember that I struggled the first year, that I wasn't what everybody thought I was," Correa said. "I'm going to put it in the past, but I'm always going to bring it up because it's always going to humble me."
Correa said he's been working a lot with Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees and Linebackers Coach Wink Martindale since returning to the Under Armour Performance Center this offseason. He's learning his coverages, where he's pushing to, where his help is, where his fronts are so he knows where to fit on runs. It's the small details that mean so much, and allow him to have fun on the field.
"I give a lot of credit to our staff on defense," Correa said. "Year 1 was tough. Year 2, I'm already enjoying it and embracing it a lot more. I can be myself because I'm comfortable out there. I know what to do and I can fly around."
Correa knows he will still get a lot of competition. It's not like any job is going to be handed to him.
Veteran Albert McClellan and fellow second-year linebacker Patrick Onwuasor will get their chance. The Ravens didn't draft an inside linebacker, but added Bam Bradley, Donald Payne and Randy Allen as undrafted rookies. The Ravens did draft two outside linebackers in Tyus Bowser and Tim Williams, and Correa has been told that the best linebackers will play, regardless of specific position.
In late March, Head Coach John Harbaugh wasn't handing the starting job over to Correa. However, Harbaugh said he was "very confident" that Correa can take it.
"I really appreciate his comments because, man, the first year was a struggle for me," Correa said. "If I ever do end up starting or make it big, I'm going to embrace it, but I'm always going to go back to that first year because it's not easy to play in this league, and it's not easy to be a great player in this league."