Last year's first-round pick, cornerback Marlon Humphrey, had the luxury of being eased into action as a rookie. In his first NFL game, he played just nine defensive snaps. In his second, it was 11.
This season, it'll be a bit different. Humphrey was going to have a much bigger role in the Ravens defense this year regardless. With top cornerback Jimmy Smith suspended for the first four games, even more gets heaped onto Humphrey's shoulders.
But if there's added pressure, Humphrey sure isn't showing it.
"It's really not much different," the Alabama product said. "I started when Jimmy was out last year. I'm going to try to do my job to help the team win."
Humphrey shined as a rookie who played in all 16 games and started five. According to Pro Football Focus (PFF), he held opposing quarterbacks to the fifth-lowest quarterback rating (53.5) in the NFL – one spot behind Smith.
This year, and especially during the first quarter of the season, Humphrey will see a lot more targets. Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale is confident the results will be the same or better.
"I'm really excited to see what Marlon is going to do – not what he can do, what he's going to do," Martindale said Thursday.
Humphrey said his next step is becoming more of a playmaker. The Ravens led the NFL in interceptions last year and Humphrey wants to contribute more than the two he had last season.
"I want to help make plays that really change games, those big plays – interceptions, forced fumbles," Humphrey said.
First up will be facing Bills quarterback Nathan Peterman, who threw five interceptions in the first half of his first NFL start last year, and wide receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Zay Jones.
Watch Za'Darius Smith for a Breakout Season
Every time Za'Darius Smith beat somebody in a one-on-one pass rush drill this summer, Terrell Suggs would shout out, "There goes Pernell McPhee!"
For more tuned-in Ravens fans, McPhee was a 2011 fifth-round pick who burst onto the scene with six sacks as a rookie, dipped in his next two seasons, then had a breakout performance with 7.5 sacks in his fourth (contract) year. He cashed in on a big deal with the Chicago Bears.
Smith was a fourth-round pick in 2015 who put up 5.5 sacks in his rookie season, then notched just one the following year and 3.5 last season. And now, just like McPhee, Smith looks to be on pace for a lucrative fourth year.
"'Z' had the best training camp I've ever seen him have since I've been here," Martindale said.
Smith's lack of sacks last year is somewhat misleading. There's sacks and there's pressure. Both negatively affect quarterbacks. While Smith had 3.5 sacks, he had an additional 12 quarterback hits. According to PFF, that was tied for the fifth-most among 3-4 outside linebackers in the NFL, along with Denver Broncos All-Pro Von Miller.
"I'm super excited to go into Year 4," Smith said. "I've made a lot of strides and missed a lot of sacks, but now it's time to go out there and finish everything."
Why the Ravens Picked Janarion Grant as Their Returner
The 53-man roster competition that most went down to the wire may have been at kick/punt returner.
In the end, the Ravens picked undrafted rookie Janarion Grant over second-year player Tim White, and on Thursday, Special Teams Coordinator Jerry Rosburg talked about the decision.
"The stats don't necessarily reflect one guy winning the job over the other guy. So, like we say in our meeting room every day, 'Every day is a competition during training camp,'" Rosburg said.
"There are a lot of practice reps that went into that, and we just felt that overall, his ball security skills were good. He gave up one in a preseason game – but his ball catching was good all during the preseason. He got some tough yards in the preseason games that we thought were impressive. That's why we went in that direction."
Grant, who was a dynamic returner at Rutgers, showed the ability to not only explode up the field but bounce off some tacklers and keep going. That could lead to him breaking a big return at some point.
Asked how somebody like Grant can slip through the cracks, Rosburg brought up a former three-time Pro Bowl return specialist who he coached in Cleveland, and who also went undrafted (Kent State, 2005).
"It reminded me of a situation in Cleveland of a guy named Josh Cribbs, who was in the same exact circumstances when he came out," Rosburg said. "How you start isn't really important. I know it's not important to Janarion, because he has an opportunity now to make his own way."
Grant said he felt "horrible" when he fumbled in the Ravens' third preseason game in Indianapolis. He knows that if he does it again, Baltimore could turn back to White, who is on the practice squad along with returner Cyrus Jones.
"It's a pretty big deal," Grant said of making the team. "I'm looking forward to it, making big plays, putting our team in great field position or scoring touchdowns. That's what I'm looking to do every time I touch the ball. "
With Albert McClellan Gone, Anthony Levine Takes on More Leadership
For years, safety/linebacker Anthony Levine has gone by the nickname "Co-Cap," as he shared special teams captain duties with linebacker Albert McClellan. After McClellan was released last Saturday, however, it's down to just a solo captain.
One of the most emotionally difficult cuts was letting go of McClellan, who had been with the team since 2011 as one of the most respected leaders and best special teams players in team history.
"It was very difficult," Levine said. "I couldn't believe it. I was in shock. I feel like I'm 'Co-Cap' and he's 'Cap.' I feel like I have to take charge, but I'm not trying to overdo anything."
Rosburg said it has been odd not having McClellan on the field this week as the Ravens prepare for the Bills. Levine said some of the team's younger players have come to him more with questions. Even though McClellan is gone (for now), his presence still looms large.
"The young players have to understand the standard that Albert played at and practiced at, and in the meetings rooms, the standard that he set here is something that they have to live up to," Rosburg said.