When it comes to being in shape or playing defense, Patrick Queen sets high standards.
Queen says he was "out of shape" at the start of last season, yet he started every game at inside linebacker, led the team in tackles and finished third in the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year voting. Imagine what Queen might do in 2021, after reporting to OTAs lighter and with a valuable season of experience under his belt.
"Coming into last year, I didn't get spring time, couldn't train really anywhere, so I came into the season out of shape," Queen said. "This year, this is a whole lot better. I get to train now, I get to see my teammates early and get the communication down and stuff. It's only up from here."
Queen is loving OTAs, taking the field with greater command of the defense and reacting faster to what he sees. After COVID-19 forced the postponement of NFL rookie camps and OTAs in 2020, Queen began his first training camp as a first-round draft pick with high expectations and plenty to learn. He had tons on his plate and the pandemic prevented Queen from reaching the peak conditioning that an athlete of his caliber expects.
"It's insane," Queen said. "Last year, I didn't go into the season in shape at all. I came in like 240-something, couldn't catch my breath when we were running. It's just so hard when you're not doing any football activity outside of working out, so that last offseason was terrible. I came into the season, and I was like, 'Bro, this is going to be a long season for me to get in shape.' So, it took me like five games to get in shape.
"Just coming into OTAs this year, you get to practice, you get to train, you get to do whatever you want. You could do stuff on your own. So, you've got the resources now to actually get in shape and do what you need to do to be prepared for when we come back to training camp and try to get in football shape. So, it's way better now coming into OTAs."
Queen physique doesn't look dramatically different, but it's more about how he feels than what he weighs. He said he'd like to play in the 235-pound range.
There were plenty of rookie highlights for Queen, who had 106 tackles, three sacks, one interception, two forced fumbles, two recoveries and a defensive touchdown. He was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 5, and Queen excelled as sideline to sideline linebacker who closed on ballcarriers, adding speed to Baltimore's overall defense.
However, during a visit to the "The Lounge" podcast in March, Queen admitted that his pass coverage needed to improve. Queen said defending against complex NFL schemes presented a major challenge, compared to what he saw in college at LSU.
Queen said he saw more three-man route concepts in the NFL compared to two-route concepts in college, and every time he felt he learned something in the pros, an offensive coordinator would hit him with something new.
"I'm proud of myself, and I'm still hard on myself," Queen said. "As I look back, pass coverage, stuff is so easy that I'm getting now, that last year I was just messing up time and time and time again. And it wasn't always the same stuff; it was just different stuff. … Now, it's just simplifying everything, and just the experience. So, I'm learning it."
Queen's desire to be a great player is a trait the Ravens love about him. He is well aware of Baltimore's linebacker legacy, and when his career is over, Queen wants to be mentioned among the franchise's greats at the position.
That's going to take commitment, but Queen has it. Head Coach John Harbaugh believes the work being done as a group this offseason will benefit Queen and the entire inside linebacker group.
"It's a tremendous opportunity for these guys," Harbaugh said. "You see it in the passing game, the pass skeletons, the half-line-type things that we do that are teaching periods, repetition periods. Those are immensely valuable, especially at a position like inside backer where you're in the middle of everything and things are always moving fast around you, and you have to make split-second type of reaction-type decisions. So, it's been great for him."
Queen is avid about film study, and he clearly sees some plays that he didn't make last season that he expects to make in 2021. After an impressive rookie year on a team with Super Bowl aspirations, his confidence is high and his body feels great. Queen has changed from jersey No. 48 to No. 6, but his intensity level never changes. His offseason work is paying off on the practice field, and this fall Queen believes he'll reap the rewards during games.
"It's hard to make it to this level – let alone be in the conversation for Defensive Rookie of the Year," Queen said. "So, I'm proud of myself, and I'm still hard on myself … I really can't wait for the season to start, so everybody could see how much work I've put in to be better."