Last year, the primary assignment given to linebacker Matthew Judon was something like this:
See quarterback, get quarterback.
The 2016 fifth-round pick led the nation in sacks during his final college season at Grand Valley State, and the Ravens utilized that knack to help give a veteran pass rush some juice.
This year, Judon's going to have a lot more on his plate.
Judon is slated to be the team's starting SAM linebacker opposite Terrell Suggs. He's ahead of rookie second-round pick Tyus Bowser on the team’s first depth chart. It's a job that Judon has been waiting for, and looks primed to thrive in.
"That is what I came here to do. I came here to play, and I came here to be on the field," Judon said. "I worked towards that, and I'm just reaping the benefits of all my work, and hopefully it shows up in the games."
Judon played in 14 games and logged 27 tackles and four sacks as a rookie. That was the third-most sacks on the team behind Suggs and defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan, who has since been traded to the Philadelphia Eagles.
It was enough to whet the Ravens' appetite to see more of Judon, and they challenged him this offseason to come back in even better shape and ready to learn more.
Judon has done that. The first step was the work he put in with Ravens Director of Performance Steve Saunders during the offseason. Judon spent his offseason at the Under Armour Performance Center. He dropped 15 pounds while adding more muscle, and looks like a far better athlete.
He's moving like it too. It's not uncommon to see Judon 15 yards down the field chasing down a running back or wide receiver in practice. He's dropping into coverage with more ease and is flying around the edge.
Last year, he used power to beat offensive tackles. Now, he can threaten with his burst, speed and power.
"I feel a lot more explosive," Judon said. "It helps with a little bit of weight gone and transitioning more muscle and just toning my body. It helps me out on the field."
The biggest stride Judon has made this year, however, is in the classroom. That's according to Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who said Judon is now in charge of setting the defense and getting the front seven lined up properly on calls. It's a job that Jarret Johnson and Courtney Upshaw used to handle in Baltimore.
"He didn't play [SAM linebacker] at all last year, and just all of a sudden, taking over a new spot … that is a big spot for us," Pees said. "Having never done it before and really not having done it in college, I think he's come a long, long way here in camp."
"He's become a really good student of the game," added Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen, who works with the team's RUSH linebackers.
Asked how many sacks he think he can get this year, Judon smiled and said as many as he can get. He's already guessing he may get double teams or chipped, and he's willing to open up sacks for his teammates.
More simply put, the mission for Judon is to finish what he started last year. He admits that he wore down near the end of his rookie season, and the Ravens lost some of the bite in their pass rush at key moments, particularly in the Christmas defeat in Pittsburgh.
Judon still thinks about that game. He wants to make sure it doesn't happen again, and he'll get his chance this season.
"Playing fast and finishing every play – all the games," Judon said. "There were a lot of games that came down to the fourth quarter – some we finished well, some we didn't finish that well as a defense. This year, we are going to try to finish everything, and I'm going to try to finish better."