When Eric Weddle signed with the Ravens two years ago, he walked into his first press conference and let out a huge shout of excitement.
Two years later and now 33 years old, the Ravens’ Energizer bunny needed a jolt this offseason.
Weddle poured everything he could into Baltimore and the game. He moved his family across the country. He's embraced the city, his teammates and fans with open arms. He’s gone to back-to-back Pro Bowls.
But team success matters most to the 12-year veteran, and Weddle’s watched his Ravens come up just short of the playoffs each season. Last year’s battle through injuries and fourth-and-12 finale was especially taxing, leading to a “long offseason."
“Just physically, mentally, it took much longer for me to recuperate after the season,” Weddle said Wednesday. “It was hard just to get up every day, honestly, to go out and do the things necessary to try to be at your best.”
That kind of statement isn't typical of Weddle. The good news is he says his passion has returned, and it’s showing on the field. Weddle made a sparkling diving interception in Tuesday’s first minicamp practice, then followed it up with another pick during passing/coverage drills Wednesday.
Weddle says he “got over the hill” about two weeks before the team returned for the offseason strength and conditioning program in April.
“I haven’t looked back since,” Weddle said. “It was all worth those hard days to be where I’m at now. I feel amazing out there running around now.”
So what has Weddle re-energized? Chalk it up, at least in part, to his coaches.
Weddle pointed to new Defensive Coordinator Wink Martindale’s new scheme, which has empowered veterans such as himself to make changes based on the offensive formation before the snap. Weddle was also consulted in crafting the scheme and terminology this offseason.
“For a guy that’s up there in years, this offseason has been a fun challenge for me to re-commit and to challenge myself,” Weddle said. “As you go throughout the years, sometimes you kind of hit a stale point, mentally, and as a player you always want to be challenged.”
Weddle said the Ravens loved former Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees, who retired, then unretired, to take the same job with the Tennessee Titans. But now it’s Martindale’s job, and he has Baltimore's veterans excited.
“[Martindale is] expanding it and giving the guys confidence to play fast and to do what is best for the defense – not what’s best for the individual,” Weddle said. “I expect to not only have my best year, but as a defense to really control and to manipulate and to make big plays as a defense, even more so than we have in the past.”
The Ravens led the league in turnovers (34) and interceptions (22) last season. Weddle had a team-high six picks, two more than the year prior. Now able to move around the defense more like he prefers, Weddle’s production could continue to ascend.
The other factor that has Weddle feeling so good this offseason is that he’s finally taking a break. Throughout his entire career, Weddle has always been a player that refused to miss a practice or even a walk-through. Now coaches are encouraging him to occasionally sit.
“They’ve managed my reps, and only practicing twice a week has been amazing for me,” Weddle said. “The coaches have done an unbelievable job just trying to save my legs a little bit so I could be lights out in December and January this season.”
The Ravens defense hasn’t finished the job in back-to-back years. Wide receiver Antonio Brown powered through Weddle and linebacker C.J. Mosley on the goal line on Christmas 2016. Then Weddle saw last season's fourth-and-12 pass sail behind him. He wasn’t put in the right position to make the play.
Now Weddle wants nothing more than to make it worth the wait this season. After going to the postseason with the then San Diego Chargers in each of his first three seasons, he's been back only once since 2009.
Weddle looks the part. His beard is at perhaps all-time bushy levels and he plans to rock a mohawk all year long.
“You know, I’m just here to wreck shop this year! Not shaving,” Weddle said with his more typical energy. “The beard is ready. So, anyone in my way, watch out!”