Brandon Williams used to get to many practices by hitching a ride with Terrell Suggs, who had built up enough clout that he would drive Owner Steve Bisciotti's golf cart onto the field. Suggs drove and Williams sat crammed in next to him.
"Man, I miss those golf cart rides," Williams said Thursday. "But who knows, I might be driving it later. We'll see."
Now Suggs is gone and only one defender (cornerback Jimmy Smith) has been with the Ravens longer than Williams.
When Williams watched Suggs, Eric Weddle and C.J. Mosley head elsewhere this offseason, it left Williams as one of the Ravens' elder statesmen and remaining defensive pillars. The defense looks and feels quite different, and it has taken some getting used to.
"When I first heard over the offseason, it was a shock," Williams said. "Seeing Suggs gone, a lifer here. Seeing Weddle gone, a great brain in the back end. C.J. gone, the quarterback of the defense, a linebacker in the middle of the defense. It was shocking."
Williams has been a key figure in the Ravens' defense for years, and he became a foundational piece two years ago when he signed a big five-year, reported $52 million deal. Since then, Williams has continued to be one of the NFL's premier run-stuffers and was named to his first Pro Bowl last season after helping to make Baltimore the No. 1-ranked unit in the league.
Now he feels even more weight on his massive shoulders to lead the Ravens' younger defense moving forward.
"Coming into a leadership role, I know that it's now time for me to step up even more than last year and even more next year. I'm ready for it," Williams said. "My biggest thing is to make sure these younger guys are taken under my wing and get the playbook right."
Williams expressed faith in the next crop of Ravens defenders, mentioning two rookie defensive tackles – Daylon Mack and Gerald Willis. He said the Ravens believe "whole-heartedly" in whoever fills the spots vacated by Suggs, Weddle and Mosley.
"My biggest thing was just to get to know my new teammates," Williams said. "Kind of gel again as a defensive core, as a defensive unit, and get some of the younger guys and bring them under my wing and keep going like we are. Just bring them along with us."
Harbaugh Is 'Moving On' From Gerald McCoy
The Ravens tried to offset some of their losses by signing veteran Pro Bowl defensive tackle Gerald McCoy. But now that McCoy has joined the Carolina Panthers instead of the Ravens (or Browns), Head Coach John Harbaugh isn't going to lose sleep over it.
"I know that he was a good player, we went after him, tried to get him, and he didn't want to be here," Harbaugh said. "He wanted to be somewhere else, so I move on and forget about him, until we play him, and I don't think we play Carolina, do we? So, I'm not worried about him."
Harbaugh expressed confidence in the Ravens' defensive line, which still has Williams, Michael Pierce, Chris Wormley, Willie Henry, Zach Siler, Patrick Ricard, Mack and more.
Williams Wants to Help Michael Pierce Get $$$
The Ravens' defensive line isn't at full strength yet because one non-participant at OTAs has been Pierce. An undrafted rookie in 2016, Pierce is entering his contract year after a very strong 2018 campaign.
According to Pro Football Focus, Pierce was the 13th best interior defensive lineman in the NFL last year, a higher ranking than Williams (and McCoy, by the way). Pierce was graded as the eighth-best lineman versus the run, specifically.
"Pierce, he's a dog. We call him 'Juggernaut' for a reason," Williams said. "When the guy gets moving, it's hard to stop him.
"I can't wait to see him back here, and just to be playing alongside my brother again. I expect big things out of him. We did a little Twitter thing [and] I told him, 'Let's get paid this year. Let's go out there and ball out and get the bag.' Everybody wants that second contract, so let's get him one."
Matt Skura Taking More of a Leadership Role on O-Line
One position that many pundits thought the Ravens could address in the first round of this year's NFL Draft was center.
Yet the Ravens didn't draft one at all and, by every indication, appear to be full steam ahead with a second season with Matt Skura as the starting center.
Skura won the job last offseason and started all 16 games at center for a very solid unit last year that helped Baltimore be the NFL's top rushing team after Lamar Jackson stepped under center and did a good job of protecting its quarterbacks.
As he enters Year 3, with 29 starts under his belt, Skura expects his experience to help him take the next step and to take on a larger leadership role.
"Right now, I'm definitely trying to take more of a leadership role within the offensive line, making sure our group is sound as far as our communication, knowing where everyone has to go, and I think that's been going really well so far," Skura said. "I think the O-Line has really gelled during this OTA period, and yes, it really is a different feeling this year, and I still have to earn my keep."
Former Coach Paul Johnson Lending His Knowledge to Ravens
Former Georgia Tech and Navy Head Coach Paul Johnson was at Ravens practice Thursday, and he didn't just stand on the sideline watching. Johnson was right in the middle of the action, more than typical guests.
Johnson was Navy's head coach from 2002-2007, then at Georgia Tech from 2008-2018 before announcing his retirement last December.
He crafted some of college football's more unique offenses, focused heavily on running the football and using the option. The Ravens, who have created one of the more interesting offenses in the NFL with Lamar Jackson, will pick his brain.
"We have a chance to learn and ask a lot of questions, and to expand what we're doing, get a couple ideas maybe here and there, and a couple of ways to say things here and there and all of that, so that's what we're doing," Harbaugh said.
"His offense was my dad's offense at Western Kentucky, so his favorite play is my dad's favorite play: the mid-line dive option. So, we'll probably be talking about that a little bit this afternoon."