The Ravens took steps this offseason to prepare themselves for the pending day that they wouldn't have Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil.
That day has, unfortunately, arrived sooner than thought or hoped.
With Suggs (biceps) and Dumervil (foot) not expected to suit up Sunday against the New York Jets, the Ravens are going to get a good look at their trio of young outside pass rushers.
It's time for rookies Matthew Judon and Kamalei Correa and second-year linebacker Za'Darius Smith to show what they can provide. On one hand, it's not what the Ravens want. On the other, it's intriguing to see the future.
"I'll be excited to see those guys play," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "I really am looking forward to it. I loved the way they practiced today and that's why those guys are here."
Suggs has said a lot to the young pass rushers, per Smith. The veteran is still in meetings, still coaching them up.
"He tells us, 'It's your shot. It's your chance to do what you do,'" Smith said. "Coach brought us here for a reason, and we've got to show up and make a name for ourselves."
Smith, a 2015 third-round pick, notched 5.5 sacks last year and ended his rookie season with 3.5 sacks in the final three games, giving him momentum in the offseason and hope that he would pick up where he left off as a sophomore.
He hasn't made as big a splash as hoped yet, however. After six games, he's still looking for his first sack.
"I get a lot of pressure [on quarterbacks]," Smith said. "Like Coach said, my time will come and my sacks will come."
Smith started against the New York Giants last week, made two tackles and got the most pressure he has all year, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), with four quarterback hurries. He indicated that an ankle injury has hampered him "a little bit," but said he didn't want to blame anything on that.
"I'm a tough guy, man," Smith said. "I've got to be better and get better as a pass rusher."
Judon, a fifth-round pick out of Grand Valley State who led the nation with 21 sacks last year, flashed his potential in the preseason when he registered a sack in each of his first three games.
However, he's played in four regular-season games and has yet to notch a sack. He had a quarterback hit in his first three games, but didn't get there in time.
Judon was inactive for the two games Dumervil played in, but returned to the field last week when Dumervil was out. Judon lined up for a season-high 32 snaps (about half of the defensive snaps), and registered two quarterback hurries.
"I'm trying to get my name up on that sack board," Judon said. "It's been a long time since I got one. But I've got to play within the defense. I can't just be rushing A-gaps trying to get a sack."
Correa, a second-round pick out of Boise State, has had very limited opportunities on defense so far this season. He's played in three games and notched a total of 15 snaps, per PFF. He nearly got an interception in his first career game in Jacksonville, but otherwise has mostly been used on special teams.
On top of the usual challenge a rookie faces, Correa has been moved around between different linebacker positions, which has put a lot of learning on his plate. Last week, Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said, "we tried to teach him maybe too many positions and too much."
Now Correa is honing in on just one position, and Pees said he saw "big improvement" in him.
"It's been a learning progress," Correa said. "It's just a whole new level of football, from football IQ, to the guys you play against, to schemes, to everything. It's just been a huge adjustment. I'm just working hard every day and hoping for the best."
The Ravens defense felt the weight of Suggs' absence last year. After the season, Owner Steve Bisciotti said the ripple effects were even stronger than anticipated. This year, Baltimore's No. 3-ranked defense will be out to prove it can hang on if it has to go without him for a stretch.
"We brought those young guys in to still have a pass rush if [Suggs] goes down or [Dumervil] doesn't come back. I believe in those guys. I've seen those guys fight, go to practice and work. I believe in them," safety Lardarius Webb said.
"They're not going to come in and play like a Hall of Famer, Terrell Suggs, but I think they're going to come in and get the job done."