Head Coach John Harbaugh had dinner recently with young outside linebackers Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo.
A topic of discussion was the Ravens' defense in 2023, and the significant roles that Oweh and Ojabo hope to play as consistent pass rushers.
Baltimore and New Orleans tied for the fifth-most sacks (48) in the NFL last season, trailing only the Eagles (70 sacks), Chiefs (55), Cowboys (54) and Patriots (54). The Ravens want to remain one of the league's best pass-rushing teams, and for that to happen, Harbaugh is counting on Oweh and Ojabo to be main contributors.
"For those two young outside backers to step up and be part of the mix is critically important," Harbaugh said. "We were talking about it, and they are excited. They are ready to roll, and I believe in those two guys."
Veteran outside linebacker Justin Houston led the Ravens in sacks (9.5) last season, but he remains a free agent. Defensive end Calais Campbell, who had 5.5 sacks in 2022, has reportedly agreed to a one-year deal with the Falcons in free agency.
Even if Houston re-signs with Baltimore, the moment has arrived for Oweh and Ojabo to seize their opportunities.
Oweh had a strong 2021 rookie season in which he had five sacks, three forced fumbles, and won an AFC Defensive Player of the Week Award. Year 2 was not as impactful for Oweh as hegarnered just three sacks, while his playing time decreased from 65% of the defensive snaps to 58%. Oweh had more tackles last season (43) than he did as a rookie (33), but Houston and veteran Tyus Bowser were relied upon more in passing situations.
It was also a challenging 2022 season for Ojabo, who suffered a torn Achilles at his Michigan Pro Day in March. Ojabo spent rookie camp, training camp and the first part of the season rehabbing and wasn't activated until Nov. 1. He appeared in just two games and had a sack and a forced fumble while playing just 21 total defensive snaps.
A second-round pick from Michigan, Ojabo would've surely been a 2022 first-round pickif not for the injury, while Oweh was a first-round pick (31st overall) in 2021. Both are extremely athletic and they share a close bond dating back to their high school days together at Blair (N.J.) Academy.
The Ravens expect the versatile Bowser to remain a key to their defense and it would not be surprising if Baltimore selects an edge rusher in the draft. However, Harbaugh looks forward to seeing Oweh and Ojabo realize more of their potential.
"You're talking about two first-round [talents] – that's what they are," Harbaugh said. "And then you've got Tyus Bowser, who's a leader. So, between those guys right there, I think that's a good group of young players that we can build around. If a veteran gets added, he gets added, or a guy gets added in the draft, that's fine, but I believe those three guys are going to get to the quarterback."