Because of the void at outside linebacker created by the Ravens’ unsigned franchise player opting to skip training camp due to a contract dispute, it has spawned a rare classroom situation for Antwan Barnes and Edgar Jones.
During Suggs’ absence, Barnes and Jones have been the primary recipients of more snaps and lots of individual instruction as they compete to fill his pass-rushing and run-stopping role with the first-team defense. Special-teams ace Gary Stills is being auditioned, too.
"They’re doing pretty good," defensive coordinator Rex Ryan said. "Obviously, we would like to have Suggs out there. With him not being there, it allows these two young guys to get a ton of work.
"They’re making mistakes, and that’s OK at this time. You go out and you try to get better and you hope you don’t make the same mistakes the following practice. You can’t buy experience. Hopefully, we’ll see the benefit of it when we start playing for real."
Barnes and Jones are entering their second seasons after making the team a year ago.
Initially slated for work as a situational pass rusher on third downs, Barnes has emerged as a top candidate for playing time in the base defense.
At 6-foot-1, 245 pounds, Barnes is a strong, fast athlete who set a school-record with 23 career sacks at Florida International prior to Baltimore drafting him in the fourth round last year.
The Ravens have plans to eventually mold him into a versatile, every-down linebacker.
"I knew I was going to get on third-down packages, but, on the regular defense I’m still second-team trying to earn my way to first-team," Barnes said. "I think I bring more maturity now. Last year, I would come into a game and everything was like, ‘I don’t know what’s going on.’ Now, I have the knowledge and the pace of the game."
Barnes’ primary strength is his ability as a speed rusher. He needs to improve at stopping the run and shedding blocks against linemen that are seven inches taller and nearly 100 pounds heavier than him.
"I can show my pass-rushing skills," Barnes said. "The coaches know about all that, but they just want to see how often I can do it. One thing I’m working on is my run defense. That’s what I’m really trying to show them.
So far, Barnes has worked a lot on first and second downs while also learning how to play strongside linebacker in a depth-building move behind starter Jarret Johnson.
"Antwan is a guy who is super excited, and he feels that he has a lot to prove," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He’s a powerful, explosive man and he really wants to learn."
The athleticism and desire are there.
What Barnes lacks, though, is the necessary experience and perfect technique.
"They say I have the quickness and agility," Barnes said. "I know I can get off and all that. But when the offensive line is on me, I need to get off the block and get to the football."
Jones has progressed rapidly after arriving in Baltimore as a raw, athletic former All-American defensive end at Southeast Missouri who led Division I-AA with a dozen sacks as a senior. He played in the Magnolia Gridiron Classic after his senior year, drawing the attention of NFL scouts.
The Ravens signed the 6-3, 263-pound Louisiana native as an undrafted free agent and have been pleased with his work ethic, speed and size.
Jones has been cross-training at both strongside linebacker and rush linebacker. He played in four games as a rookie last year and recorded one sack and five tackles.
"It’s a blessing for me to be out there," Jones said. "I feel like this could be a big year. I’ve improved a lot in the pass rush, but even more so in pass coverage. My confidence is much higher and I know the playbook better.
"That makes you feel more comfortable on the field. I’ve matured a lot since last year, and so has Antwan. We bring a lot of energy and that motor is always running."