Second-year linebacker Chris Board is pulling ahead in the competition to be the starter at inside linebacker, Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale said Friday.
Board is competing with fellow second-year linebacker Kenny Young for the spot next to Patrick Onwuasor, who has shifted into the position previously held by C.J. Mosley.
Board and Young will still likely rotate during the season, but it's a matter of who plays in what packages and gets the majority of the snaps.
"I think Chris Board is ahead of Kenny Young, but I still think Kenny Young … it's still a battle," Martindale said. "We'll see when we get into the preseason games how well both those two do, but they're both coming along really well."
Board was an undrafted rookie last year who led the team with 12 special teams tackles. He played in all 16 games and made his first defensive tackle in the Ravens' wild-card loss.
The North Dakota State product has tremendous speed and is good in coverage. In college, he would sometimes walk out from his linebacker spot and play some nickel cornerback.
"Where he has improved the most is just his instincts inside the box and knowing the defense," Martindale said. "Everything is faster. I say everything is faster in our league, but it takes a year for it to slow down, especially for the rookies."
The Ravens have a rich tradition when it comes to grooming undrafted inside linebackers into starters. Just think about Onwuasor, Bart Scott, Albert McClellan, Jameel McClain and Zachary Orr, who is now the team's assistant linebackers coach. Board could be next in line.
Pernell McPhee Looks Good, Mentoring Rookie Jaylon Ferguson and Others
Veteran outside linebacker addition Pernell McPhee has been everything the Ravens wanted and more thus far.
McPhee impressed Owner Steve Bisciotti and Head Coach John Harbaugh with his pass rushing at the M&T Bank Stadium practice about a week ago. It was a good sign that the 30-year-old linebacker, who has been physically banged up in recent years, has plenty of juice left.
"I think Saturday was a little sneak peek for Sundays," McPhee said with a smile.
Additionally, McPhee has already taken the team's young linebackers under his wing. Rookie third-round pick Jaylon Ferguson especially credited McPhee with helping him find his way so far.
McPhee said Ferguson reminds him of himself when he was a rookie – long, powerful and wide-eyed.
"He's just trying to figure stuff out," McPhee said. "If you look at it, he has power and they don't call him 'Sack Daddy' for nothing. He just has to transition the game from college to the NFL and stop thinking and go. Once that happens, he'll be real good."
Ferguson said McPhee's greatest lesson so far is that he needs to pay more attention to taking care of his body. Many young players, especially ones from smaller programs like Louisiana Tech like Ferguson, don't have routines and aren't accustomed to all the services at their fingertips.
"He's full of wisdom. You can never learn too much from Pernell," Ferguson said. "My body is my everything. Without my body, I can't play football and provide for my family. He's probably inside taking care of his body right now and I'm out here talking to you guys."
McPhee made an instant impact for the Ravens, logging six sacks in 2011. If the Ravens can get similar production from Ferguson this year, it would go a long way toward boosting a pass rush with a number of question marks. McPhee is trying to do his part.
"He's one of our pillars," Martindale said of McPhee. "Like I said before, he's the old-school Raven that we need. … And he hasn't lost a step since he left, to me, in my eyes."
Roman: Time for Ronnie Stanley to Take Another Step
While the Ravens are searching for their starting left guard, the left tackle spot is anchored down. Ronnie Stanley has already proven himself to be one of the league's top-tier blindside protectors.
Now, as Stanley enters his fourth season, the Ravens want even more from the sixth-overall pick in the 2016 NFL Draft. All five players drafted ahead of Stanley and one behind (49ers defensive end DeForest Buckner) have gone to a Pro Bowl.
"I think he has a very high ceiling as a player," Roman said. "He came into this league as a very young player, and I think he has had three years under his belt now. It's time for Ronnie to take another step as a player, and he's going to have every opportunity to do it."
Roman said Stanley made some changes to his body this offseason and that his knowledge of the game continues to increase.
"It's upon him to make of it what he does, but I like what I see so far," he said.