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Why Justin Madubuike Is Having a Breakout Season

DT Justin Madubuike
DT Justin Madubuike

Justin Madubuike's breakout season doesn't surprise Defensive Coordinator Mike Macdonald.

Macdonald saw the sweat Madubuike poured into OTAs, minicamp and training camp, a player driven to tap into his potential like never before. That was Macdonald's first clue that Madabuike was ready to blow up.

"He was here all the time, put in all the work, always a great attitude," Macdonald said. "Anytime you're watching one-on-ones, and the things that we're stressing up front in terms of the pass rush, he was executing at a high level.

"We're obviously seeing it come together now. It's like when someone says, 'You're an overnight success,' it's really like 10 years of hard work. I think that's a good example with Justin."

Madubuike has been one of the NFL's best defensive tackles this year, a consistently disruptive force who leads all interior linemen with 6.5 sacks – already a career high despite being less than halfway through the season. Through eight games, Madubuike has 13 quarterback hits and is using his strength, quickness and a variety of moves to defeat offensive linemen.

Madubuike is athletic enough to line up anywhere on the defensive line, which gives Macdonald more opportunities to scheme up mismatches. The Ravens lead the NFL in sacks with 31 heading into Sunday's game against Seattle, the most sacks they've ever had through eight games.

Madubuike isn't just creating opportunities for himself, he's occupying multiple blockers which opens pass rush opportunities for teammates. The Ravens' pass rushers are feeding off each other and Madubuike loves it.

"The approach is, 'Just execute the gameplan, just execute the play,'" Madubuike said on "The Lounge Podcast." "'Don't be selfish. Be selfless. Be able to put your teammates into position to make plays,' and that's what we do.

"Mike is going to put us in position to rush the passer, so you have to put that into perspective. You just have to execute the gameplan and trust your teammates."

Madubuike will turn 26-years-old on Nov. 17, and he's blowing up at an opportune time in the final year of his rookie contract. However, a new deal isn't the main thing on Madubuike's mind. He's driven to be a great player, and the season he's putting together is a major step in that direction.

"I'm not going to be the first, and I'm not going to be the last player who's been through the contract year." Madubuike said. "You can worry about it and let it kind of stress you, or you can put your energy toward getting better. Being focused, being a leader by example, speak when you need to speak and when you do speak, they'll feel you. They'll respect you, that you come in and work your ass off every day."

Madubuike's quest for knowledge is insatiable and he stays in touch with former Ravens Justin Houston and Calais Campbell, picking their brains for tips. He talks to older teammates such as Jadeveon Clowney and Kyle Van Noy, or younger ones such as Odafe Oweh and David Ojabo.

"I'm not afraid to ask a dumb question," Madubuike said. "I'm just trying to find a way to get better."

Assistant Head Coach/Defensive Line Anthony Weaver and Outside Linebackers Coach Chuck Smith are former NFL players who have worked with Madubuike on developing pass rush technique. Having more go-to moves, and knowing when to use them, has made Madubuike more difficult to block while boosting his confidence.

"What I did differently was just really tune in with pass rush moves and find ways to get better with conditioning," Madubuike said. "Those are the things I felt like last year I lacked, and I wanted to definitely get better at that this year.

"As I practice and I get confident doing it against my teammates, I can get more confident in the game. I just pull it out, and it usually works."

The Ravens' pass rush has been a collective effort, but Madubuike has been at the center of the storm.

His motor is relentless, and there's still more than two months left in the regular season. The Ravens are eager to see how much higher Madubuike can raise the bar.

"He's playing great," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "He's talented. He works hard. He's come in here from the beginning and steadily worked hard to become the kind of player he is.

"I really think he's having just a top-notch year against the run, chasing the ball down and pass rush. [It's] what he's doing, plus I think the other guys – it's spread out. You have guys who are pressuring from every different direction – defensive ends, inside guys, linebackers, safeties, corners, nickel – and getting sacks. That helps everybody. It's like the rising tide – it raises all ships. He deserves the credit for that."

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