Ravens Starting Inside Linebacker Competition Is Heating Up
Patrick Onwuasor started 13 games at inside linebacker last year and has been running with the first-team defense throughout the summer. However, the starting position next to Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley may be more open than it appears.
On Thursday, Defensive Coordinator Don "Wink" Martindale said rookie fourth-round pick Kenny Young is making a push for the job.
"There's going to be great competition with Peanut and Kenny," Martindale said. "Kenny Young's come on."
Replacing Zachary Orr, Onwuasor (nicknamed "Peanut") notched 90 tackles, one sack and two passes defensed last season. It was a solid showing, especially considering that it was his first full year playing linebacker. Onwuasor was a free safety at Portland State before joining the Ravens as an undrafted rookie.
With a year of starting under his belt, Onwuasor has looked better this offseason. He's attacking the line of scrimmage with more confidence in the run game. Known for his big hits, physicality isn't an issue.
Given his background, he also has a good feel for pass coverage. In the first days of camp, he tipped a pass that was intercepted by Matthew Judon. On Thursday, Onwuasor picked off a sideline throw by quarterback Joe Flacco during red-zone work.
"Peanut, he's grown schematically just seeing things," Martindale said. "He's still not where he wants to be, or where I want him to be, where [Linebackers Coach] Mike [Macdonald] wants him to be, but he's really grown as a linebacker."
Young was a standout linebacker at UCLA, where he led the team with 110 tackles, including 8.5 for loss. He wins with speed and is particularly adept in covering running backs and tight ends. Young has flashed that speed during practice and seems to always be around the ball.
Marlon Humphrey Has Tough Practice, But No Concerns From His Coach
It's not often that cornerback Marlon Humphrey gets beat, which made the several receptions he gave up in Thursday's practice all the more surprising.
Humphrey was out-raced by wide receiver John Brown on a pair of deep passes, including one touchdown bomb and another that Brown came back on. Brown used a stop-and-go move on the deep touchdown. Humphrey also gave up a contested comeback catch to wide receiver Breshad Perriman.
After practice, Martindale was asked how Humphrey will deal with the high expectations for him in Year 2.
"I think he's dealing with it just fine. I think that's a question you're going to have to ask him. Maybe I'll ask him," Martindale quipped. "He's going to be a dominant corner in this league."
As Martindale pointed out that it's not a totally fair fight in training camp when defensive backs are being careful not to collide with wide receivers/teammates. It's especially tough for a physical cornerback like Humphrey.
"I haven't watched the tape on it, but I know, overall, his body of work has been outstanding," Martindale said.
Rookie Safety DeShon Elliott's Physicality Stands Out
Rookie sixth-round safety DeShon Elliott drew some buzz when the Ravens put on the full pads in recent training camp practices.
Elliott first decked undrafted pass catchers Nick Keizer and Jaelin Acklin, then popped first-round tight end Hayden Hurst a couple days later.
Martindale said it's stressed to Elliott to be smart and take care of his teammates. At the same time, it will be interesting to see what Elliott does when he's allowed to hit players from another team.
"He's going to hit people, we've just got to make sure he doesn't overshoot it," Martindale said. "He's got to come at the right angles and things like that. But he's going to be another fun one to watch back here."
Marty Mornhinweg Happy With Running Back Depth
The Ravens were bummed that they didn't get a running back in this year's draft, but the emergence of their three undrafted rookies has been a pleasant surprise.
De'Lance Turner (Alcorn State), Mark Thompson (Florida) and Gus Edwards (Rutgers) have all looked good in practice. Thompson and Edwards are big-bodied thumpers standing in at 6-foot-1 and about 235 pounds while Turner is 5-11, 214 pounds.
With Alex Collins, Buck Allen and Kenneth Dixon slated as the top three on the 53-man roster, it appears the Ravens won't need to add another running back.
"We're pretty thick right there with some really good ball players," Offensive Coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "I'm happy with the depth at the running back spot."
Rookie Tackle Orlando Brown Jr. Has 'Improved Dramatically'
Baltimore is getting an extended look at rookie third-round pick Orlando Brown Jr. at right tackle, as he's taken all the snaps there with the first-team offense.
It's a battle between Brown and veteran James Hurst for the starting job, but Hurst hasn't gotten snaps there yet as he's filled in for injured Marshal Yanda (shoulder) at right guard.
Mornhinweg said Brown has "improved dramatically" at right tackle after playing on the left side throughout his college career at Oklahoma.
"He's right in the middle of learning how we go about our business, as well as the offensive structure," Mornhinweg said. "He's getting better every day and as long as a young man – let's say a rookie – can get better every day, good things end up happening. He's done that. He's a very, very hard worker, excellent preparation. [Offensive Line Coach] Joe 'D' [D'Alessandris] is doing a heck of a job with him."