After Steven Means left the Ravens in 2015, he longed to return.
The veteran outside linebacker got his wish in June, signing a one-year contract with Baltimore and returning to a franchise that is special to him.
Entering the NFL as a fifth-round pick with the Buccaneers in 2013, Means was waived during his second season and thought about quitting football. But after signing with the Ravens in 2014, his joy for the game returned.
"What most people don't know is that this place resurrected my career," Means said. "There was a point where I was almost done with ball. Then, I got here and started having fun again and started loving the game again."
Means is back in Baltimore hoping to earn a roster spot, and his good karma with the Ravens is showing. He had a strong preseason opener against the Titans with three tackles, and his most impressive play was a sack of Malik Willis when Means roared around the edge to blindside Tennessee's elusive quarterback.
Means could earn a role in the mold of long-time Ravens linebacker Pernell McPhee, who also had two stints with Baltimore (2011-14 and 2019-21). Means and McPhee have similar body types (they're the exact same size at 6-foot-3, 269 pounds) and are strong, physical players who are adept at setting the edge. Being compared to McPhee is a compliment in Means' book.
"I was here with 'Phee'. That's my guy; he's a real good dude," Means said. "I'm here anywhere they need me. I told them, 'I'll put my hand in the dirt at nose, three-technique, five, set the edge or rush.' So, it's just trying to show them that I can really do all those things like I've been doing in my past."
Means' first stay in Baltimore ended in 2015 when he was released with injury settlement after he suffered a sports hernia. But the short stay left a major impression on him. He loved the culture and camaraderie he found lacking elsewhere.
"I got drafted to Tampa, and it was just the total opposite of what I thought," Means said. "I wound up falling out of love with the game, wound up being conflicted once I got released. I was like, 'Do I want to still play?' Baltimore called me; they called me to work out. They sign me, I still didn't know at that point, but once I started coming out here and playing … it gave me a whole different feel. It really resurrected my career. It was a blessing for me to come here, because I was almost done. The organization, [Head Coach John] Harbaugh, the way that they just let you play, they let you show your personality, they let you be you."
The Ravens' rotation at outside linebacker is undetermined largely due to injury. Baltimore lost veteran outside linebacker Vince Biegel for the season (Achilles) early in camp. Last year's leading sack producer Tyus Bowser has not returned from his Achilles injury, and second-round pick David Ojabo (Achilles) hopes to be ready for action at some point this fall.
Odafe Oweh and Justin Houston are heathy and ready to go, and second-year outside linebacker Daelin Hayes is competing to earn a role. Means knows his roster spot is not guaranteed, but he's not backing down from the competition. Last year in Atlanta, Means started 14 games and made a career-high 43 tackles. He's started 25 games the past two years.
"I've been in this position before many times," Means said. "I've been fortunate to not be in this position the last couple of years, but every other single year, it's been the same way.
"It's exciting to get up knowing that you have something to prove. You do all of your due diligence, you make sure you're studying the plays so you can play fast, you make sure you're taking care of your body so you can play fast. Once you get out there, you just have fun and let it rip."
Means is likely to see action in Sunday night's preseason game against Arizona and will look to capitalize on another opportunity. His determination has been tested during his nine-year career with stops in Houston, Philadelphia and Atlanta, but the experience has made him stronger.
He's channeling that strength every day, and when he hits the field he's playing with purpose. Regardless of what roster decisions are made, Means will know that he's given his all, and he'll be grateful the Ravens offered him another chance.
"I'm trying to make an impression on myself and just leave this game empty with nothing left in the tank," Means said.
"Have you ever been on a roller coaster? That's me. That's how I describe my journey – ups and downs and crazy turns. But through all of it, I just stand firm and just thank God for it."