How does defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan evaluate his sophomore season?
"It was better," he said. "But I'm not where I planned to be."
Jernigan entered the NFL as a second-round pick out of Florida State who many pundits, and the Ravens, believed could have been a first-round selection.
He flashed as a rookie, making 23 tackles and four sacks despite playing just about a third of the defense's snaps. This year, Jernigan played more than half the snaps (54 percent), according to Pro Football Focus (PFF), and logged 37 tackles and four sacks.
With Haloti Ngata traded to Detroit, Jernigan was one of the integral young pieces tabbed with filling the void left by the former Pro Bowler. Jernigan helped do that, along with defensive tackle Brandon Williams, as the effects of the loss were minimal.
But Jernigan didn't take as big a step in his sophomore campaign as he, or some others, predicted.
"I know that there's a lot of work left to do," he said. "Every Sunday, no matter how many plays I made, I can still sit down and watch the film that night and say, 'I could have done this better or that better.' So there's still a lot of room for improvement."
Jernigan said he felt he made strides in terms of playing within the system. He did a little too much freelancing as a rookie. He tried to get penetration and make plays in the backfield, but that sometimes left him out of position and opened holes.
Mostly, he improved his effort over the course of the season. Head Coach John Harbaugh used effort stickers to motivate the players, and Jernigan's locker started to fill up with them by season's end.
After the Ravens' Week 15 loss to Kansas City, Harbaugh praised Jernigan's play over the previous several weeks.
"He was all over the field," Harbaugh said. "He played with a motor that is pretty hard to find in any level of football, and I feel like he's determined to ramp it up every single week and play even harder."
According to PFF, Jernigan saved his best game for last. He had a plus-3.0 overall grade, his highest of the season, in the finale against Cincinnati. Over the final seven games of the season, Jernigan played about two-thirds of the defensive snaps.
"Timmy's a dog," Williams said with a laugh. "If Brandon Williams wasn't getting in his way, Timmy would make more plays."
Now Jernigan wants to take the next step forward and reach the level he sees some of his NFL peers.
He looks at two players specifically: Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald and Bengals defensive tackle Geno Atkins. Both have similar penetrating styles. Donald was last year's Defensive Rookie of the Year and Atkins is a four-time Pro Bowler.
"I need to take my game to the next level. I want to dominate, man," Jernigan said. "I know I can do the things they do. They have very similar styles of play to mine. They've figured out how to turn that corner. I'm still trying to figure it out."
Jernigan said he knows it's going to take a hard offseason training regimen to get that accomplished. Last year, some pundits questioned how much work Jernigan put in during the offseason, though he said he came into camp in tip-top shape. Jernigan got off to a slow start once the regular season began.
"I'm going to start early and go all the way till the season," Jernigan said. "Then once I come back, I'm going to take all the coaching and just become a better player."