Tony Jefferson Is Back, Joins Earl Thomas as Daunting Duo
Tony Jefferson was back in his element this week, joining on-field workouts for the first time since offseason ankle surgery.
The joy on Jefferson's face was obvious Wednesday after he took reps next to Earl Thomas, the perennial Pro Bowl safety the Ravens signed during free agency. Jefferson had been itching to get back and participating in minicamp will put him farther ahead when training camp begins in late July.
"It feels great, it's been what, January 22 (his surgery date)," Jefferson said. "Put the cleats back on again, but the helmet back on, got to fly around with my guys, not watch. … I was anxious to get out here. I wanted to build chemistry with my guys. Great two days, finish up strong tomorrow."
Jefferson expects to take on even more leadership after Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Za'Darius Smith and his good friend Eric Weddle departed during free agency. While the Ravens' defense will have a different look, Jefferson expects that look to be very good.
"In the NFL, these types of things happen," Jefferson said. "It's a business, so you have to be ready and prepared for all types of moves. The more you dwell on it, the more time you're wasting. We're all hurt, we love those guys dearly, like brothers like family. But from a football aspect, it's time to move on. It's time to prepare ourselves for the upcoming season."
Thomas and Jefferson will join forces to be one of the top safety duos in the league. Jefferson believes that Thomas' arrival as a true center fielder will free him up to play closer to the line of scrimmage more, creating havoc for opposing run games, attacking quarterbacks and shutting down the short and intermediate passing game.
He and Thomas are in the process of gelling on and off the field. Jefferson joked when asked about Thomas' serious demeanor.
"We get the lighter side of him. Took him a second. We were like, 'Hey bro, we love you,'" Jefferson said. "It's always like that for somebody that's coming into a new program. He's been in one spot for nine, 10 years.
"We've got to safeties back there who like to read and react. Earl has obviously been one of the best in the game for a long time and still is. His instincts are some of the best I've seen."
Wink Martindale Thinks Defense Will Be Fueled By Challenge
Ravens Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale doesn't sugarcoat things. He freely admits the Ravens' defense lost plenty of talent and leadership during free agency. Yet, Martindale has unwavering confidence that Baltimore will continue to have an elite defense next season.
"I'm not going to sit up here and say, 'Next man up,' the typical coach talk," Martindale said. "You're going to miss a Terrell Suggs. Everybody here is. Everybody in the city of Baltimore is. There is a transition period. The biggest transition is just the communication of the defense. That's all coming together, so that's exciting to me. That's recharged our battery. Nobody cares who we lost. That's our next challenge."
The Ravens defense had superb practice day for the defense Wednesday, featuring interceptions by safety DeShon Elliott, cornerback Terrell Bonds and others.
Martindale senses that the remaining defensive players are eager to prove that the unit can remain elite. The defensive standard in Baltimore was set years ago, and Martindale has no intention of lowering the bar.
"That's been the conversation with all of them," Martindale said. "It's nothing that I'm pushing either. It's just the standard of Raven football, Raven defense, (Head Coach) John Harbaugh defense. We know where we need to be, we know where we're expected to be, and we're excited to accept that challenge."
Martindale said his defense looks very fast, and that the losses at outside linebacker may actually make the pass rush more "multiple." He spoke highly of his inside linebackers, Patrick Onwuasor, Kenny Young and Chris Board, as three players who can step up after C.J. Mosley's departure.
Coaches, Players Express Confidence in Michael Pierce
This has been a tough week for defensive tackle Michael Pierce, who was not in good enough physical condition to participate in mandatory minicamp. However, Martindale believes Pierce will return to form and reestablish himself as one of the NFL's top run-stuffers.
Martindale said he said the same thing to Pierce as he did the entire defense: "Life is about choices. Just don't make that choice make your life."
"He's a dominant player," Martindale said. "He's got a challenge between now and training camp to get to a certain stage. I know he'll be there. I think we piled on on enough yesterday. Let's not forget what a great football player he's been. He'll get back there. I can't tell you when, but he'll get back there."
Jefferson said teammates have given Pierce their full support.
"We love Mike, we're glad to have him back," Jefferson said. "He's working his tail off."
Terrell Bonds Has Nice Day With Two Interceptions
Free agent cornerback Terrell Bonds was probably the outstanding defensive player of Wednesday's practice with two interceptions. The Ravens are loaded at cornerback, but Bonds clearly isn't afraid of competition.
Bonds played for the Memphis Express this year in the now-defunct Alliance of American Football League, where he had 14 tackles and five passes defensed in eight games. He was a playmaker in college at Tennessee State with 10 interceptions during his four-year career.
The 5-foot-9, 176-pound Bonds was not drafted in 2018, but he has used his stint in the AAF and at rookie minicamp to earn an NFL opportunity. Bonds hopes to follow in the footsteps of former Ravens cornerback Jaylen Hill, who went from a tryout to the team's 53-man roster in 2017.
"He's playing different spots, which is hard to do for a rookie," Martindale said. "He's executing well out there. He's showing up."
Tavon Young Could Be in Mix as Punt Returner
With Cyrus Jones still not cleared for practice due to an undisclosed health issue, several players are getting an opportunity to return punts, including cornerback Tavon Young, wide receivers Willie Snead IV and Joe Horn Jr., and running back Tyler Ervin. First-year Special Teams Coach Chris Horton likes what he is seeing from those getting reps.
"We've got a ton of guys, we're just trying to figure out who's going to be that main guy," Horton said. "Early on in Tavon's career, we had him back there. So we're put him back there to see how he does in practice. That job's open for anybody who can go back there and compete and win that job."