Arthur Brown's rookie season was mostly a learning opportunity.
The inside linebacker spent the year as a defensive reserve, playing in the nickel packages on passing downs. He was also a key player on special teams.
Brown's role was limited as a rookie, but the Ravens have much bigger plans in mind for next year.
"He'll be competing for that Will linebacker starting job," Harbaugh said. "I expect him to win the job, but he's got to go win the job."
Brown will likely have to compete with veteran Jameel McClain and Josh Bynes for the starting role. McClain has started at Will linebacker for the last four seasons, and Bynes took over the job for the first six games of last year while McClain was sidelined with a neck injury. McClain or Bynes could also play Mike linebacker next year, depending on what happens with free agent Daryl Smith.
Moving Brown into the starting lineup would give him the kind of role the Ravens envisioned when they traded up to draft him with the No. 56 pick last year. The Ravens drafted Brown with the intentions of putting him in the middle of the defense, and natural references to legendary linebacker Ray Lewis started almost immediately after the Ravens selected Brown.
Smith actually ended up taking over for Lewis at middle linebacker, allowing Brown to take more time adjusting to the NFL. Brown ended up playing 22 percent of the defensive snaps (211-of-950), and finished the year with 15 total tackles, one forced fumble and a half sack.
"Art Brown did a really good job in our nickel packages," Harbaugh said.
Brown had to deal with the transition to the NFL that all rookies experience, and he also had to adjust to playing a new position. Brown was a hybrid inside/outside linebacker during his college career at Kansas State, so playing exclusively inside was a change for him.
"Art is a guy who's learning a lot of football," Harbaugh said. "He bounced [between defensive positions] a little bit in college."
For Brown to earn a starting role next season, Harbaugh pointed to the importance for him to make strides on the mental side of the game. Inside linebackers operate as the quarterback of the defense, which makes it critical to have a grasp on the entire defense.
With a year of experience behind him, the Ravens are confident Brown can broaden his knowledge of the defense and make the necessary improvements to take on a larger role for his sophomore campaign.
"Understanding the complexity of defensive schemes in this league – at this level – is going to take him to a starting role," Harbaugh said.