When Saints quarterback Taysom Hill dumped a screen pass to his running back, Devonta Freeman, Hill probably thought Freeman was off to the races. He had a couple of big offensive linemen and nothing but green grass in from of him.
That is until Ravens middle linebacker Patrick Queen came screaming at him like a rocket. Queen quickly recognized the play and knifed through the Saints blockers to drop Freeman for a 2-yard loss.
Ravens play-by-play announcer Gerry Sandusky said it looked like the sort of play a veteran would make, not a second-year pro.
"Well, it looked like Ray Lewis," added color analyst Rod Woodson, who would know considering he played next to Lewis.
Queen leads a 2020 Ravens class that is primed to make the proverbial second-year jump. If Saturday's preseason opener is any indication, they're already starting to take flight.
Queen, quarterback Tyler Huntley, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike, inside linebacker Malik Harrison, wide receiver Devin Duvernay, and safety Geno Stone all had standout plays in the game. Others, including running back J.K. Dobbins and wide receiver James Proche II have been all-stars in practice.
Saturday's 17-14 win was a clear sign of what a difference a year – and a full offseason of practices – makes for the Ravens' COVID class. They were stripped of practices until training camp, then had no preseason, last year because of the pandemic. Now their growth is taking off.
"[I felt] way more comfortable. I could just feel it," Queen said. "Just way more relaxed [and] way more anxious for the play to happen. It was a lot of hard work that I put into it, so I'm happy."
Queen said he feels "two steps faster now." His screen pass stuff certainly showed it. On the very next play, Queen got rocked backwards on a blitz by Saints right tackle James Hurst but didn't give up on the play. Queen fired forward again, blazing past Hurst to take down Hill for a sack.
On back-to-back plays, Queen sent the Saints backwards 15 yards and forced them out of field-goal range for a punt. He killed the New Orleans drive.
Queen has been getting the Ray Lewis comparisons since the night the Ravens drafted him in the first round. He showed a ton of promise his rookie year, in which he led Baltimore in tackles, made three sacks, two forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and one interception.
He's always been fast on the field, but now he knows where he should be running to, which makes him even faster.
"He was a rocket going to get that, and that's how you expect him to play," Head Coach John Harbaugh said.
"I'm a person that likes to read what the critics say," Queen said. "I took to what they said, and I just went to work on it. I tried to get better, and I feel like I have a lot. It's a big season. There are a lot of expectations for me. So, I'm just trying to live up to them."
Harrison got the Ravens' turnover party started when he bodied up the Saints' big-bodied rusher, Latavius Murray, near the goal line. It was a heads-up collision at the line of scrimmage that the Ravens' 6-foot-3, 247-pound linebacker won, jarring the ball loose for a Baltimore fumble recovery.
Harrison was a downhill thumper last year as a rookie, and he played fewer than 25 percent of the Ravens' defensive snaps in all but four games. Veteran L.J. Fort got a larger share of the snaps next to Queen.
That doesn't appear to be the case this year as Harrison is listed as the starter on the first depth chart and ran with the first team in the preseason opener while Fort played into the fourth quarter.
"Malik is my guy. We're always talking. We're always communicating on the field," Queen said. "So, I know what type of player he is, [and] I know what type of player he can be. He expects the same out of me, so it's going to be a nice season for us two."
Madubuike, who has been one of the most buzzed about players in Ravens camp, made his presence felt in the preseason opener when he pushed his blocker into the backfield and grabbed Freeman's arm as he tried to get through the hole. That popped the ball out and the Ravens recovered.
Huntley scored the game-winning touchdown with a 7-yard burst up the middle and got the Ravens' offense going in the second half. Especially given more reps this training camp when Lamar Jackson was sidelined by COVID-19, Huntley looked more in control than he was as a wide-eyed undrafted rookie last year who was thrust into playoff action.
"Playing the game of football, the more reps you get, the more you feel comfortable," Huntley said.
None of the Ravens' wide receivers had a particularly big night, but Duvernay led the bunch with four catches for 28 yards.
Stone was one of the biggest stories of the game with his two interceptions. Stone was a seventh-round pick last year who spent much of the season on the practice squad until he was signed by the Houston Texans late in the season. When given the opportunity this offseason, he rejoined Baltimore.
Like all the other rookies last year, Stone didn't really have time to acclimate to true life in the NFL before the season started. They still contributed, but it was hardly an ideal start. This year, the Ravens' 2020 class can show it's made up for lost time.
"I didn't have OTAs last year, and I felt like this year, going into the spring, I took a really big leap, because the OTAs are really just for building the playbook and everything like that," Stone said. "And I felt like I grew a lot in that area.
"I learned my playbook, learned the positions, and I feel like it really helped me a lot today, and it's helped me all [training] camp. I feel like it's really a good thing for our young players to get, and I wish I had it last year, honestly."