Follow the Leader

Street Talk Follow the Leader

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The word “leader” or “leadership” was used 14 times by six Ravens players following the second offseason workout on April 17. If offered an over/under casinoeuro prop bet on this, the six teammates would have certainly shattered the over.

With the loss of C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle and Za’Darius Smith, the team needs some new, stronger voices on the defense.

The offense is full of younger players still adapting to life in the NFL. 

Here is a look at some of the players ready to take on the responsibility of becoming a more vocal presence in the locker room and on the field.

Follow the Leader

Photo Credit: Ben Margot, AP

Tony Jefferson

Position: Safety

Experience: Seventh season (third with Ravens)

Analysis: Jefferson has become an elder statesman of the team, especially with the loss of Eric Weddle. Jefferson has also been a player that will speak publicly following a gut-wrenching loss or huge win. He’s also a durable player who has missed just two games over the last two seasons.

Leadership philosophy: “I can look back in 2017 when I walked in Day One, and I see all those faces – and then you walk in Day One in 2019, and they aren’t there. It’s obviously something you definitely can’t not notice.

“So, those guys are big, big talents in the NFL, and what they’ve done here in the organization, I don’t think you can really speak for it. Words can’t really describe what they mean to everybody in this building, but that’s how the business works. Like I said, it’s Year 7. I’ve seen it all. And, it may not have been how we wanted it to roll, but we have to roll either way. I have to be a leader back there, and with the new additions, we have some veteran leadership coming in as well to help with that.”

Follow the Leader

Patrick Onwuasor (48) and CJ Mosley v. Dolphins, 2017 (Photo Credit: USA Today Sports)

Patrick Onwuasor

Position: Inside/middle linebacker

Experience: Fourth season (fourth with Ravens)

Analysis: Onwuasor has emerged as one of the top playmakers on a defense that has been decimated with losses. He is ready to embrace a bigger leadership role in light of the losses of Mosley and Suggs. Onwuasor is making the shift to middle linebacker and is also preparing to take on Mosley’s role with wearing the headset.

On safety Earl Thomas wanting him to work on his leadership: “It was probably two weeks before we started up. ‘T.J.’ [Tony Jefferson] brought him around. We kind of sat down and talked a little bit, and I think he was like, ‘We have to work on your leadership and you opening up,’ because I really don’t open up to a lot of the guys.

“When I’m on the field, I’m a whole different type of breed, but in the locker room, I’m kind of a quiet type of dude, so I think that’s what he wants. He wants me to open up a little bit more.” (Reporter: “How did he know that? Did someone tell him?”) “I think somebody probably told him, yes.”

Follow the Leader

Baltimore Ravens/Shawn Hubbard

Lamar Jackson

Position: Quarterback

Experience: Second year (second with Ravens)

Analysis: The Ravens coaches have lauded Jackson’s natural leadership ability. As a rookie, the players were impressed with his presence in the huddle. The Ravens are building the offense around Jackson and he is ready to embrace the responsibility that comes with that commitment. He also led by example throughout the offseason, voluntarily working with receivers in Florida. However, he needs to take the next step in his development.

On how he goes about stepping up as a leader: “Just being mature, playing my part, talking to my guys, trying to have a positive attitude each and every day.”

Matt Skura prepares to snap with Marshal Yanda next to him.

Marshal Yanda

Position: Guard

Experience: 13th season (13 with Ravens)

Analysis: Yanda is the Ravens most experienced player and recently signed a one-year extension, which ensures he will retire with the team. Yanda leads by example and is the Ravens most decorated player, earning two first-team All-Pro selections, four second-team nods and seven Pro Bowls. While Yanda is not a vocal player, he gets the attention of his teammates when he speaks.

GM Eric DeCosta on Yanda’s presence: “We want to have a great mix of young players and veteran leadership and guys that can help us win games.”

Earl Thomas

Position: Safety

Experience: 10th season (first with Baltimore)

Analysis: Thomas brings another veteran presence to the secondary and has an impressive resume that makes him a natural leader. However, Thomas plans to lead by example and told some of the younger players like Onwuasor to take on a more vocal role. Thomas just plans to make plays to make the defense better.

On joining the Ravens:  “You look at Ed Reed, guys like Ray Lewis, I feel like that’s my style of play. I have that type of swagger. It’s a historic franchise, so I definitely have an opportunity to bring my blueprint to the table.”

Ravens sign Mark Ingram.

Mark Ingram

Position: Running back

Experience: Ninth season (first with Ravens)

Analysis: Ingram is one of the most experienced players on offense and could help mentor Jackson. However, Ingram is another player who leads more by example, but could become more vocal if he finds success within this offense.

On if he sees himself as a leader on offense: “I don’t feel like that. I feel like that’s something that’s earned. I feel like that’s something that is designated by your teammates and your peers and your coaches. I don’t feel entitled to be a leader or to be anything like that. I just try to always be me: lead by example, work my butt off, be personable with my teammates, hang out with my teammates, get along with my coaches, all the staff, and just be the best person I can be. I just try to be me. I don’t try to switch it up or anything. When people say I was a leader or I was a good teammate, it was all stuff that people had said about me, not stuff that I had said about myself. So, I just try to be myself and I just try to earn people’s respect and love.”

Ravens Director of Performance Steve Saunders speaks at the Under Armour Performance Center.

Steve Saunders, head strength & conditioning coach also offered his thought on who will emerge as leaders this season.

Jefferson is at the top of the list.

“We have a bunch of guys who are ready to step up,” he said. “Tony Jefferson has been groomed by Eric for the past two years, so to speak, in that leadership role. Tony is anxious to jump in there and sort of take the reins. There are some young guys that want to be a part of that as well, so I don’t think we lack for leadership at all, which is a great thing.  

“We have a lot of guys who know what the expectations are, that know what the Ravens expect, know what our coaches expect. So, as much as we’ll miss Eric on a personal level, I think we have a lot of guys who are ready to step up and take the reins.”


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Todd Karpovich

About Todd Karpovich

Todd Karpovich has been a contributor for ESPN, the Associated Press, SportsXchange, the Baltimore Sun, among other media outlets nationwide. He is the co-author of “If These Walls Could Talk: Stories from the Baltimore Ravens Sideline, Locker Room, and Press Box,” “Skipper Supreme: Buck Showalter and the Baltimore Orioles,” and the author of “Manchester United (Europe's Best Soccer Clubs).” Karpovich lives in Towson with his wife, Jill, daughters, Wyeth and Marta, and a pair of dogs, Sarah and Rory. More from Todd Karpovich

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