Perhaps the most up-in-the-air position battle of training camp is starting to gain some clarity.
The Ravens came into the summer with an open linebacker spot next to C.J. Mosley in the middle of the defense, and third-year defender Zachary Orr is making a strong case to win the job.
"He's in the lead," Linebackers Coach Don Martindale said about Orr.
Orr got the start at the weak-side linebacker spot in Thursday's preseason opener against the Panthers, and* *was one of the team's more impressive defenders. He played most of the first half and racked up four tackles, including one for a loss, and a quarterback hit.
"He gets better every practice," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "The wisdom is in the results, and the results are how he played. He sure played – everybody saw it – he played really well."
Orr has proven himself to be a tireless worker and selfless player during his time in Baltimore. He made the team as an undrafted prospect from North Texas and committed himself to special teams. He established himself as one of Baltimore's top special teamers, and by the end of last season the coaching staff wanted to see what he could do on defense.
Orr held his own in limited defensive action last year, and the Ravens went into training camp with Orr competing against second-round rookie Kamalei Correa for a starting job.
"When they told me they were going to put me in some packages [last year] it showed that they had confidence in me," Orr said. "It showed that Coach [Martindale] believed in me and it gave me that confidence."
Martindale has seen Orr play with more confidence this summer. He knows the defense and has committed himself to film study off the field. That effort has paid dividends.
"There's a saying in our room – when someone says they're hungry, he's starving," Martindale said. "The mental part of it is one of his strongest assets. The game is in slow motion to him. He's instinctive. He knows a lot of plays before the offense even knows they're going to run it. You can see that reaction. He's playing faster than anybody else."
The Ravens have a strong history of unearthing diamonds in the rough at inside linebacker. Bart Scott, Jameel McClain and Dannell Ellerbe all went from undrafted players to getting big contracts later in their careers based on the way they established themselves in Baltimore.
Orr is well aware of the players who came before him.
"One of the first things when I first met coach 'Wink' he said, 'know the history here.' We have a history in this room as linebackers with undrafted guys," Orr said. "He pretty much asked me, 'What are you going to do about it?' He's challenged me every day since I've been here. He's challenged me every day with what am I going to do. Am I going to be the next one? I'm striving for it each and every day."
The starting job is by no means guaranteed for Orr. He has the edge in the competition, but the Ravens have a pair of high draft picks fighting for snaps. Correa has drawn strong reviews for his performance in training camp, and Martindale also praised former second-round pick Arthur Brown for his performance in the opener.
Orr will have to keep up his strong camp to fend them off, but fighting for a spot is just part of his expectation in the NFL.
"No matter what you do in this league [going undrafted] will always follow you," Orr said. "You never get away from it. It's definitely something that has motivated me and that will continue to motivate me no matter what."