Without some largely unsung players, the Ravens wouldn’t be 5-2 at the bye. Here are seven under-the-radar names who have been vital to the team’s success.
Chuck Clark, S
Clark seamlessly moved into the starting lineup in Week 5 after Jefferson’s injury and the third-year player was well-prepared. He wears the “green dot” communication helmet, relaying defensive signals from Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale to the entire unit. Clark has proven he can handle that extra responsibility. The Ravens had some miscommunications in the secondary early in the season, but those issues have disappeared during their current three-game winning streak.
“I don’t care what you throw at him, he knows exactly what to do and he’s going to be able to line everybody up on the defense,” Defensive Backs Coach Chris Hewitt said. “He doesn’t just know his job. He knows everybody else’s job. He’s just cool. He’s not going to get too high, he’s never going to get too low. He handles all the ups and downs throughout the game. He never wavers and he’s a really good football player.”
Nick Boyle, TE
Boyle’s route running has improved this season (12 catches, 145 yards) but blocking remains his specialty. Baltimore has the NFL’s top-ranked rushing attack and Boyle is a key part of the equation. As Offensive Line Coach Joe D’Alessandris said, “I kid him all the time; he’s a glorified guard just playing tight end.”
Boyle has 87 catches during his five-year career, but he’s still looking for his first career touchdown. He’s had plenty of time to think about a touchdown celebration, but in the meantime, he continues to excel doing the dirty work in the trenches. Defensive Line Coach Joe Cullen calls Boyle a throwback.
“Nick is as good as they get in terms of blocking, and he's athletic enough to go out and catch passes,” Cullen said. “Usually, you don't have that luxury. When I first came into the league in 2006, every team had a Nick Boyle. It just seems like they're a rare breed now.”
Bradley Bozeman, LG
Remember when left guard was the biggest question mark on the offensive line entering the season? A sixth-round pick in 2018, Bozeman has started every game and has solidified the position, holding his own against top defensive linemen like Chris Jones of the Kansas City Chiefs, Cameron Heyward of the Pittsburgh Steelers and Jarran Reed of the Seattle Seahawks. When he has made a mistake, Bozeman has shaken it off quickly.
“He’s had the top inside people and has done one heck of a job,” D’Alessandris said. “I’ve seen nothing but good growth. He’s improved as a puller. He’s improved as a good pass protector. We all make mistakes – coaches, players. We all have a little flaw here or there. The object is to correct it, and he’s correctable, and he works hard at it. He’s doing one hell of a job.”
Josh Bynes, ILB
The Ravens haven’t lost a game since Bynes signed as a free agent and went from the street to the starting lineup prior to Week 5. What Bynes did against the Steelers, starting at middle linebacker after just three practices, isn’t nearly as easy as he made it look. He had a season-high eight tackles Sunday against Seattle and seems to be gaining more comfort with Baltimore’s system.
Bynes diagnoses plays quickly and is a sure tackler. He brought exactly what the Ravens’ defense needed after giving up 500 yards in back-to-back games. His acquisition allowed Patrick Onwuasor to return to his best position, weakside linebacker. With Onwuasor expected to return from an ankle injury following the bye, Baltimore’s inside linebacker rotation has been stabilized.
Brandon Carr, CB
Carr’s durability is well known but his versatility is equally impressive. His streak of 183 consecutive starts is the longest among active defensive players. Carr has played outside corner, slot corner and safety at a high level, helping the Ravens adjust to losing slot cornerback Tavon Young and safety Tony Jefferson for the season, and losing cornerback Jimmy Smith for multiple games.
Where would the Ravens be without Carr? Hewitt isn’t eager to find out.
“Brandon is cool as a fan,” Hewitt said. “Anything that you throw at him – ‘Hey, Brandon, I need you to play safety.’ ‘Cool.’ ‘I need you to play nickel.’ ‘Cool.’ He can handle all of those positions. There’s not too much that he hasn’t seen and hasn’t been able to handle. Having Brandon Carr, that’s huge for us.”
L.J. Fort, ILB
Starting two games after Onwuasor was injured, Fort has played aggressively since being signed prior to Week 5. This is Fort’s fifth NFL team and his eighth season, but he had only started three games prior to this year. He’s making the most of his opportunity. Even if he doesn’t start after Onwuasor returns, Fort is expected to remain part of the linebacker rotation.
“A guy like L.J., he’s been in the league for quite a while now, and he’s finally getting a good shot to go out there and show what he can do,” Linebackers Coach Mike Macdonald said.
Matt Skura, C
Noisy road environments like Kansas City and Seattle have tested Skura, but he has not lost his composure.Even after committing pre-snap penalties, Skura never lets it carry over to the next play. Skura has started 23 straight games at center and at age 26, his best football should be ahead of him. He is currently graded as the sixth-best center in the league, per Pro Football Focus.
“He’s just growing from when we first started,” D’Alessandris said. “That year in ’17, he started as a center and grew. And then he had to play guard, and he got some experience at that position. Then last year, starting center. And then this year, every game, every day, continued growth. He’s a coach’s voice. He’s a coach’s eyes. He does what he’s supposed to do, and he plays hard. He’s having a heck of a year.”