Like many people, Timmy Jernigan was surprised when the Ravens traded Pro Bowl defensive tackle Haloti Ngata to the Detroit Lions.
While the move put Jernigan in line to become a starter this year, it didn't send him running to the gym. He was already there.
As the Ravens now open their first week of Organized Team Activities (OTAs), Jernigan is out to prove that he can step into the spot vacated by one of Baltimore's greatest defensive players.
"It's definitely something I've been waiting for for a long time," Jernigan said.
"I've known I'm more than capable of doing the job. Now it's just a point of proving it. Last year, I showed flashes. You've got to be able to do it consistently day in and day out. It's huge shoes to fill."
Jernigan gave a preview of what's to come during his rookie season. He played in 12 games and started three while Ngata was suspended for violating the league's substance abuse policy. He notched 23 tackles and four sacks.
Despite taking just 330 snaps, Jernigan ranked as the league's 14th-best defensive end in a 3-4 system, according to Pro Football Focus (PFF). He ranked sixth in run-stop percentage and second, only behind Houston's J.J. Watt, in pass-rush productivity.
Jernigan has long been looking for more playing time. He was a backup during his first two years at Florida State and was still named an All-American. He became a starter during his junior college year, but the Seminoles blew out so many opponents that he said he played only four full games.
When he came to the Ravens as a second-round pick last year, Jernigan was playing behind Ngata and Brandon Williams, who emerged in his sophomore campaign.
"This is my first time ever really getting a chance to play and be a starter," he said. "I'm ready to show the world, man. And I will."
Jernigan went back to Florida to train this offseason, splitting his time between Bommarito Performance Systems in Miami, and home in Lake City, Fla.
Jernigan said he concentrated on improving his endurance so he could take on 50 to 55 snaps per game this year. He said he's shed five pounds (putting him at 295), and is in "the best shape I've ever been in."
When news of Ngata's trade arrived, he continued at the same high training pace.
"I didn't need the trade to wake me up," he said. "I've been grinding since I got here [to Baltimore].
"When you're grinding and you work for what you want, you don't feel pressure. There are obviously expectations there. It's Haloti Ngata at the end of the day. But I don't feel the pressure people talk about because I know what I'm capable of doing and I know I've been working."
In addition to improving his endurance, Jernigan will continue to hone his technique. While he was adept at penetrating gaps, he sometimes got out of position while trying to make plays.
Jernigan says he'll continue to learn to play within the system, but isn't going to be taking on the same role as Ngata.
"I can sit there and look at film and be like, 'Man, what was I thinking there?' Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn't," he said. "But at the end of the day, that's the type of player I am. I'm a slasher, I get off the ball quick. I'm not really the big, two-gap, 350-pounder. That's not me. Haloti and I are two totally different players."