One day in last year's training camp, Tavon Young went to put on his helmet like he's done thousands of times before, and he just couldn't take the pain.
He couldn't recall what play caused it, but his neck was hurting throughout camp. After not being able to stand putting on a helmet, Young checked in with the training staff and it was determined that his season was over.
It was a tough blow for the Ravens' talented nickel cornerback, the second time in his four-year career that he would spend the entire year on the shelf. But now Young is back, and he's loving life again.
"I'm excited to be back with my guys," Young said. "Second time doing this, but every time I come back, it's just a blessing. It's just another day to step on the field; another day to just compete, have fun [and] do what I love the most."
The Ravens signed Young to a contract extension last season that, at the time, made him the highest-paid nickel cornerback in the NFL. So when Young was forced to sit out last season, it was a big hit to the Ravens' defense. Baltimore was able to adjust, thanks to an incredibly deep and talented cornerbacks group and the versatility of Marlon Humphrey, but Young's injury had a ripple effect.
With Young back on the field, the Ravens' cornerback corps looks full strength once again.
"We've got Tavon back this year, which is a huge addition – that's like having another first round draft pick coming back inside of your room," Pass Defense Coordinator Chris Hewitt said this week.
Whenever he's been on the field, Young has been a difference-maker. In 2018, he registered 36 tackles, an interception and two fumble recoveries, which were both returned for touchdowns.
At the start of training camp, Young did think "a little bit" about how his neck would hold up. "But once I stepped on the grass, it was like, it is what it is – let's go, let's do what we do," he said.
Back at his spot in the slot, Young looks to be right on track. He's been his usual pesky self in practice, glued to wide receivers for frequent pass breakups and still sticking his nose into the fray on run defense. He broke up multiple passes during an intense Tuesday practice in pads.
"He looks to me like he picked up right where he left off before," Head Coach John Harbaugh said afterwards. "He's really trained hard, and you can see that. He's moving great. He's a very good football player, and he's playing very well. So, I can't wait to see him play this year. I'm excited for his season. He's a special kind of guy."
Tyus Bowser Is Hard on Himself, Sets His Sights High
The Ravens added pass rush help on the defensive line this offseason, but one of the breakouts could come from a developing young talent.
Outside linebacker Tyus Bowser had the second-most sacks on the team last year (five) and registered three in the Ravens' final regular-season games. The former second-round pick didn't make a big defensive impact in his first two seasons but could be the next late-blooming pass rusher in Baltimore, following in the footsteps of Za'Darius Smith, Paul Kruger and others.
Harbaugh said the "expectations are high" for Bowser as he enters his contract year. Bowser said earlier this summer that he's aiming for double-digit sacks.
"He's doing a lot of things really well. He's setting the edge, well, he's pass rushing, he's dropping into coverage, and he's working on special teams," Harbaugh said. "So, there is a lot on his plate, and I feel like he's been successful at every single thing he's taken on in this training camp. I really expect a big season from him; I really do. He's very motivated, and he's a very hard worker."
Asked if this is his best camp yet, Bowser said he didn't necessarily think so.
"I'm not where I want to be. I'm still working," Bowser said. "I still have the standard that I have, that I want to get to. I'm just taking it a day at a time to get there."
Chris Board Has 'Vastly Improved'
Much of the media attention is on the two rookie inside linebackers Patrick Queen and Malik Harrison, but the Ravens have seen good things from their two veterans too.
L.J. Fort has broken up several passes in practice, and Chris Board was particularly good in Tuesday's physical session. Board was in line to possibly be a starter last year, but a preseason concussion derailed his progress.
He was still one of the team's core special teams players, but he's been looking for a chance to make more of a defensive impact.
"I'd say vastly improved," Harbaugh said. "He's a guy that didn't play a lot of inside linebacker in college as a 'in the box' type-guy, so he had a lot to learn. He's just very diligent, and we've seen a big jump so far in this training camp. He's all over the field."
Derek Wolfe Feels 'Finally Home' in Baltimore
The Ravens wanted to draft Derek Wolfe in 2012 but the Denver Broncos got him first. Now, after eight standout years out west, Wolfe is adjusting well to life in Baltimore.
"I'm finally home," Wolfe said. "They welcomed me with open arms, man. My teammates have welcomed me with open arms. The organization has welcomed me with open arms. It was a sigh of relief, because, obviously, when you spend so much time in one place, you start to get comfortable and your family is comfortable. And then, when you have to up and leave, it's a difficult situation. But I couldn't be happier, really."
Wolfe said he grew up in Ohio often watching the Ravens play on TV, and learned how to play defense from the 2000 Ravens unit that was arguably the best of all time.