Step Right Up, Timmy Jernigan


How do you replace a player who has anchored your defensive line for the past nine seasons, gone to five straight Pro Bowls and is in the midst of one of his best years?

The short answer is you can't.

But the Ravens do have good options when it comes to trying to fill the massive gap created by defensive tackle Haloti Ngata's four-game suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy.

While several players will likely get a bump in snaps, it starts with the next man on the depth chart: rookie second-round pick Timmy Jernigan.

"I'm definitely ready," Jernigan said. "All I've been wanting ever since I've been here is a shot."

Jernigan has flown under the radar behind heralded first-round rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley. It's largely because Jernigan backs up Ngata, and because he missed four games due to a knee injury.

Until now, the Florida State product was perhaps best known by fans and pundits for being late to a meeting because he was building a snowman. That's going to change.

The Ravens felt early on in training camp that they had drafted a first-round talent in Jernigan. It was just difficult to find enough snaps. He has averaged 19 per game, which he said makes it tough to get on a roll.

"Now I've got an opportunity to show the world I can actually play," Jernigan said.

Jernigan's performances in the limited time he's had on the field are encouraging.

He is rated as the 14th-best defensive end/tackle among NFL linemen in a 3-4 system this season, per Pro Football Focus (PFF). He has a grade of plus-8.2. That's only six spots behind Ngata (plus-18.4). Had Jernigan been receiving more snaps, he would have a higher rating.

A deeper look into PFF's stats shows Jernigan's effectiveness, especially against the run. Jernigan has the third-highest run-stop percentage in the league. On opponent's run plays where he's been on the field, Jernigan was responsible for a stop 22.6 percent of the time.

"The film doesn't lie," Jernigan said. "The snaps that I have been able to play this year, I feel like I've been productive. Now I'm just going to have to step up into a bigger role and do it down in and down out."

Watching Jernigan on tape, the Florida State product's explosiveness is quite clear. He has a quick first step and the power to create leverage and shed blockers.

Jernigan also brings some more pass rush up the middle. He has two sacks in his past three games. Ngata had two sacks all season.

Jernigan doesn't have the same sheer size as the hulking Ngata. Ngata is listed as two inches taller and 40 pounds heavier. Jernigan doesn't have Ngata's experience. He doesn't gobble up blockers as well as Ngata has done the past nine seasons.

But Jernigan is a rare breed himself.

"I think he has gotten better every week," Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees said. "He has some quickness. He has some power. There are some things that he can do that other guys can't do. Everybody has their own set of physical tools; his are different than like a Haloti [Ngata], or a Brandon Williams, or something like that."

Jernigan won't be alone in stepping in for Ngata. Pees pointed to defensive tackle Lawrence Guy and defensive end DeAngelo Tyson, and nose tackle Terrence Cody could perhaps work into the mix as well.

The Ravens plucked Guy off waivers in late September, and he has grown into a solid rotational player. He has played in seven games in Baltimore and made five tackles. He came up with a fumble recovery against the Titans in Week 10.

Tyson has been inactive for the past three games as he has been beaten out by Guy. Tyson has 17 tackles in nine games, including four starts.

Cody hasn't played in a game yet this season. He had offseason hip surgery and was placed on the physically unable to perform list. He was activated on Nov. 4, and could have played the past three weeks, but was deactivated each week.

"We have some other candidates that are good players, and those guys have to step up and get the job done," Pees said. "A couple years ago we played 10 games without Ray Lewis, played eight games without [Terrell] Suggs. We're going to play four games without Haloti. Next guy up. Let's play."

The Ravens have done a stellar job stopping the run this season, and that's in large part because of Ngata. Baltimore is ranked fourth in the league in rush defense, surrendering 86.3 yards per game. The Ravens haven't allowed a 100-yard rusher in 22-straight games, the NFL's longest streak.

Pees was asked how confident he is that the Ravens can continue playing such good run defense without one of the stalwarts in the middle.

"I'm confident," Pees said. "That was the easiest question I've had."

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