Kamalei Correa is in a much different place compared to last year.
The second-year linebacker has worked with the starters throughout the summer and he clearly has a much better grasp on the game compared to his rookie campaign. He's playing with more confidence and having more fun in his second season, and the maturation process is evident in his performance.
But Correa is still a work in progress, and Head Coach John Harbaugh said he saw "steady improvement" in the former second-round pick in last week's preseason matchup with the Miami Dolphins.
"He is operating in a place where he needs to take his very good practice reps to the game consistently," Harbaugh said. "I thought there were many more good reps in this [past] game than the first game, and he had some good reps in the first game too."
The Ravens are using the preseason as a barometer to determine whether Correa is ready to fill the inside linebacker spot that opened when Zachary Orr retired. Albert McClellan and Patrick Onwuasor are also options to start, but Correa has seen nearly all the first-team reps next to Pro Bowler C.J. Mosley.
The preseason snaps are critical for him because he played in only nine games last year and hardly saw any defensive action. He's flashed at times the last two weeks and come up with four tackles and a forced fumble in the two preseason games.
Now the coaches want to see him play with consistency. Harbaugh pointed specifically to a play against Miami where Correa missed a tackle on a pass to running back Jay Ajayi out of the backfield.
"There are still some reps that are head-scratchers, like the dropdown to Jay," Harbaugh said. "That is a tackle he would make 99 out of 100 times. Stay on your feet, keep your eyes up and wrap him up strong. 'K.C.' is a big, strong guy, and there is no back in this league that he can't wrap up and take down. He is more mad at himself, probably."
An area where the Ravens wanted to see Correa improve this summer was his approach to the run game. Stuffing the run as an insider linebacker is different from what Correa had to do in college, and Harbaugh has liked what he's seen so far.
"The other part of it was that we really want him to play downhill in the run game a lot better, and I can only think of one other rep where he didn't do that and lost his run leverage," Harbaugh said. "It was a pretty steady game for him that way, and that was one of the goals going into the game."
The Ravens knew that this preseason would be a learning curve for Correa. In addition to competing for a starting job, he also settled into one position after working at multiple spots his rookie season.
A priority is to see progress each week, and the Ravens are encouraged by his development. Former Ravens Head Coach Brian Billick, who is the team's color commentator this summer, wrote that Correa stood out to him as the most improved player from the first to second game.
Correa looks like he's set to go into the regular season as the starter, and he has two more preseason games to put that competition to rest. The Ravens have high expectations for the 2016 No. 42 overall pick, and they believe he can deliver on them this season.