Chris Wormley isn't the same player he was as a rookie. He's better, and more confident.
A third-round pick out of Michigan in 2017, Wormley has already played more snaps (187) than he did his entire rookie season (120). Now his role in the defensive line rotation is likely to expand even more with defensive tackle Willie Henry going to injured reserve this week with a herniated disc.
Brandon Williams and Michael Pierce have played at a high level, but the Ravens like to rotate defensive linemen liberally to keep them fresh. Wormley is showing he can handle the extra responsibility, earning the praise of Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale.
"He has progressed in a lot of different ways, and really just in the last three weeks you've really seen him take off a little bit," Martindale said. "I said we need to put some gunpowder in his food a little bit, coming back from his rookie year. He's playing a physical brand of football. He's playing like a Raven now."
The Ravens will be challenged Sunday to stop the running game of the Carolina Panthers, who have an excellent multi-purpose back in Christian McCaffrey and the NFL's most physical running quarterback in Cam Newton. Wormley looks forward to the challenge, saying the key to his improvement this season is a more aggressive approach.
"It's definitely fun being out there with the guys, getting more snaps, coaches relying on me to more to be out there and make plays," Wormley said. "I think my approach was a little different this year. I really didn't know what to expect my first year. This year, I'm a little more comfortable in the scheme and around the guys. Not afraid to make a mistake. So I think the combination of getting older, getting comfortable with the scheme, has helped me a lot this year."
The Ravens have the NFL's top-ranked defense and their depth is part of the reason. Martindale is not afraid to rotate defensive linemen and pass rushers, and backup players love knowing they will be involved.
"That's been huge for us this year, we call it hockey shifts," Wormley said. "Every three or four plays, we're all trying to get in and have a fresh body out there. I think (Terrell) Suggs turned 36 a couple of weeks ago. He can't be out there playing 60 plays, because we definitely need him out there in the fourth quarter to rush that passer. We're all just trying to find ways to stay healthy, stay fresh. We're doing it with the hockey shifts, and I'm glad to be part of it."
Lamar Jackson Working Hard to Develop As Passer
Lamar Jackson scored his first NFL touchdown Sunday and has been effective as an occasional all-around offensive weapon, including in clutch situations. But he's still working behind the scenes on his long-term development.
Ravens Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said Jackson has been spending 20-30 minutes each day after practice doing extra work with Quarterbacks Coach James Urban and veteran backup Robert Griffin III.
If Jackson is to become a starting quarterback one day, he needs to develop as a more consistent passer. Jackson has embraced that challenge behind the scenes, putting in the time required.
"I think I have a pretty good sense of where I am," Jackson said. "I've been working on everything, accuracy, timing. Staying ready, just in case something happens. You have to keep working at your craft, even if you've been in the league 15 years."
Up to this point, Jackson's biggest plays have been made running the football. But Mornhinweg believes Jackson make a bigger impact throwing the football before the season ends.
"He'll help us win some games here doing some other things for the ball club," Mornhinweg said.
Jackson received praise this week from Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who said he loved watching Jackson as a college quarterback at Louisville and has more "wiggle" than him as a runner. As former Heisman Trophy winners, Newton and Jackson are in a special fraternity, and will likely spend time together on the field after Sunday's game.
"I like Cam, man," Jackson said. "I used to watch Cam a lot at Auburn. That's cool for Cam to say that. I'm hoping I get his jersey after the game. I wish I could give him mine, but I'm a rookie. I don't know how that goes. I'll have to talk to the equipment manager."
Mornhinweg Points Finger at Himself for Hayden Hurst's Slow Start
Rookie tight end Hayden Hurst has just one catch in three games a Raven, but Mornhinweg says he isn't worried.
Hurst missed the first four games after suffering a stress fracture in August, and Mornhinweg said he has been careful not to overwork Hurst since his return. Among the Ravens' four tight ends, Hurst played the fewest snaps (18) Week 7 against New Orleans. Nick Boyle played the most (32), followed by Mark Andrews (26) and Maxx Williams (20).
What has been the biggest hurdle for Hurst to overcome since his return?
"Me," Mornhinweg said. "We have a rookie that's never played in a league game, coming off a major injury, a little rust. There was more of a long-term plan, and much of that's me. He's got to prepare and work hard in practice and it will come. I've got no question about that."
Ravens Heap Praise on Cam Newton Before They Try to Stop Him
The Ravens will emphasize gang tackling Cam Newton, because one person is not always enough to bring down the Panthers quarterback. Ravens safety Eric Weddle called Newton a "fast dinosaur" on Wednesday. Martindale compared Newton to the person from your childhood who always seemed bigger than the other kids.
"Remember when you were in like the fifth or sixth grade, and that guy that had the beard and drove to the game?" Martindale said. "That's what he's like as an NFL player. I joked around with my wife. I've been watching scary movies all week, getting ready for Halloween watching this tape. There's a reason why they call him Superman."
Newton may be having his best season, completing a career best 65.8 percent of his passes while leading all NFL quarterbacks in rushing yards. Some of the credit for Newton's success has gone to Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, who hired Martindale as linebackers coach in 2004 when Turner was head coach of the Oakland Raiders.
"I have nothing but the utmost respect for Norv Turner," Martindale said. "He's the one who brought me into this league. He's a very talented coordinator, and I know he will challenge us at every angle. He's been coaching for 100 years in this league, so he knows all the angles."
Christian McCaffery Another Multi-Purpose Back Ravens Must Stop
The Ravens faced one of the NFL's best all-around backs in Week 7, and made Alvin Kamara of the Saints earn what he got. Kamara finished with 64 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, while catching two passes for 11 yards.
Now the Ravens are preparing for another duel-threat back, Christian McCaffery of the Panthers, who has 378 yards rushing and 289 yards receiving. The Panthers try to get the ball in McCaffery's hands in a variety of ways, from multiple formations.
This has been another long week of film study for Martindale.
"Same challenges as we had last week with [No.] 41 [Kamara]," Martindale said. "It's tough. He's a good football player."
Martindale was also asked about Panthers tight end Greg Olsen and Carolina wide receivers Torrey Smith and rookie D.J. Moore, who both played at Maryland.
"They have some weapons obviously – starting with [No.] 1 [Newton]," Martindale said. "Then you guys can just keep mentioning them, so I'm going to go throw up after this is over."