Though he still talks to C.J. Mosley, Patrick Onwuasor has found his own voice in the Ravens' defense.
Since joining the Ravens in 2016, Onwuasor has become a better player each year, progressing from undrafted free agent to starter at inside linebacker. He became one of the team's biggest playmakers last season with 59 tackles, 5 ½ sacks, an interception and two forced fumbles that were returned for touchdowns.
While Mosley has signed with the New York Jets, Onwuasor has moved from weakside linebacker to middle linebacker, the position where Mosley played for five seasons and made the Pro Bowl four times. It's a bigger role for Onwuasor, one which may also include relaying defensive signals to his teammates. The added responsibility is something Onwuasor embraces, an opportunity to take his game to yet another level.
"Now, I feel like I have to step up in that role and communicate a lot more, be loud, vocal, get a couple players lined up, adjust the front and do a lot of different things that we really had C.J. do," Onwuasor said. "I just used to play fast and play off of [Mosley]. Now, I have to step up into that role."
During Thursday's OTA practice, Onwuasor was active and assertive, playing without hesitation. The departure of Mosley is a challenge not only for Onwuasor, but for fellow inside linebackers Kenny Young and Chris Board. The Ravens' decision not to draft or sign a prominent inside linebacker after Mosley left indicates their confidence in Onwuasor and their entire linebacking corps.
Head Coach John Harbaugh loves what he has seen from Onwuasor during OTAs.
"He understands the defense inside and out right now, and he's communicating exceptionally well," Harbaugh said. "Our offense makes checks, I see him making checks, so he's been directing those guys back there really well, and I expect him to have a great season. Not just him. I know there's a lot of talk about the linebacker position. I'm not worried about it one bit. I like the guys we have. The guys we have are going to be more than good enough. They're going to play great, and I think you're going to be talking about a lot of these guys."
Knowing that Mosley would be a free agent this offseason, Onwuasor anticipated transitioning into a larger role. He watched how Mosley handled things when teammates looked to him for direction, and Onwuasor and Mosley still talk frequently on the phone. Onwuasor values the advice and feels ready for the challenge.
"It kind of is enjoyable," Onwuasor said. "The guys look up to you…everybody turns to you for direction if they need to know where they need to go.
"It's still kind of weird (not playing next to Mosley), but we have great guys – Kenny Young, Chris Board, guys ready to play. They're communicating as well, too. Sometimes, I might forget something and Kenny already said it, or Chris Board already said it, so that way, it relieves a little pressure off of me so that way we can play fast."
Onwuasor has come a long way since he joined the Ravens three years ago and wasn't sure he would make the roster. But Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale always believed in Onwuasor's ability and frequently exhorted him to play with more confidence.
Now as an established player, Onwuasor's confidence has never been higher.
"That's one thing I was lacking coming in here, thinking I was kind of too small to play linebacker and stuff like that," Onwuasor said. Those guys getting me fired up and letting me know I could do it, with those guys backing me up, it's just given me more confidence."