The Ravens expect to hear questions about leadership after losing familiar faces and personalities such as Terrell Suggs, C.J. Mosley, Joe Flacco, and Eric Weddle this offseason.
Veteran safety Tony Jefferson already knows the Ravens will be different. But as other leaders emerge, he also believes the Ravens can be better.
“You walk in Day 1, 2019 and they aren’t there, it’s obviously something you can’t not notice,” Jefferson said during the opening week of the Ravens offseason workouts. “Those guys are big talents in the NFL. Words can’t really describe what they mean to everybody in this building.
“But, that’s how the business works. It’s Year 7. I’ve seen it all. It may not be how we wanted it to roll, but we got to roll either way. We are who we are. We’re the Ravens. We’re always going to be resilient, we’re going to be tough, physical. There’s been a lot of talk going on, but that’s really for the media to take hold on that. We know in this building, it’s all about us. We’re working on getting better. We’re fully confident, we’re loaded, we expect to be the best in the NFL.”
Jefferson and his teammates have high expectations for 2019 after winning the AFC North last season with the NFL’s No. 1-ranked defense. If a leadership void must be filled, several players sound ready to step forward.
With the additions of safety Earl Thomas and running back Mark Ingram, the Ravens added two veterans who are used to winning and leading by example.
For Baltimore, this offseason isn’t just about adding talent and re-designing the offense. It’s about continuing the transition that began last year, when Lamar Jackson took over from Flacco as the starting quarterback, forcing Jackson and other young players to take on more responsibility.
So much of the Ravens’ fortunes revolve around Jackson, and entering this season as the starter, the 22-year-old quarterback knows he has more responsibility as well. Jackson is not one of the team’s more vocal players, but when asked if he needed to take a larger leadership role next season. Jackson said, “Definitely. (But) we have a lot of leaders around here.”
Thomas hasn’t played a down for the Ravens yet, but it’s clear the six-time Pro Bowl safety has already left an impression on his new teammates. Jefferson and Thomas worked out together before voluntary workouts started, and Jefferson can’t wait to play next to Thomas in the secondary this fall.
“He’s a playmaker and ballhawk,” Jefferson said. “I believe that’s why he’s here, and I believe that’s why he got what he got to come here. This defense is about guys who make plays.”
Inside linebacker Patrick Onwuasor could wear the microphoned helmet for the first time – relaying the defensive play calls from Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale. Mosley and Weddle shared play-calling responsibilities last year, but after his best season in 2018, the 26-year-old Onwuasor said he would welcome the added responsibility of signaling plays if asked.
“My confidence is one thing that Wink kind of beat me up about,” Onwuasor said. “You’ve got to have confidence when you step on that field. As the time progressed with me and Wink, I felt more confident every year going into it, just him trusting me. … I can always call C.J. I’m really comfortable wearing the headset. I wear it in practice. C. J.’s not the only guy talking. When that play comes in, 11 guys are communicating.”
Thomas has already talked to Onwuasor about becoming more vocal and assertive.
“That’s the first thing Earl said, ‘We’re going to work on your leadership,’” Onwuasor said. “That’s something that I kind of shy away from. It’ll probably be great for us.”
Onwuasor admitted it felt different to walk into the locker room and not see Suggs, or Weddle, or Mosley, or Za’Darius Smith as part of the defense.
“It’s a bit different vibe,” Onwuasor said. “It’s kind of weird. Tony and Earl are doing a great job just picking up where they left off just leading us. Wink always told us, he was like, every year the room is going to change. To be honest, I didn’t think really think it was going to change that much. You learn as you go it’s a business. I think the Ravens did a great job trying to fill in those pieces, bringing in pieces to help us progress.”