Linebacker Issues Phil Hoffmann/Baltimore Ravens

Street Talk Linebacker Issues

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John Harbaugh is upfront about players earning their reps in games by excelling in practice.

He’s not going to put play someone if he doesn’t feel they’ve done enough during the week.

Two players that have drawn his ire are linebackers Tim Williams and Tyus Bowser. Neither player has recorded a sack over three games and they have also misplayed a couple of assignments.

This does not sit well with the head coach. 

“They need to be better. We need to get more pressure, more sacks from those guys,” Harbaugh said. “They’ll probably tell you they need more reps. I would say earn more reps by doing something about it.”

Williams and Bowser are not the only linebackers struggling. With the exception of Matthew Judon and Pernell McPhee, Harbaugh has not been pleased with the overall performance of this group.

The loss of C.J. Mosley, Terrell Suggs and Za’Darius Smith via free agency obviously hindered the linebackers room this season. Patrick Onwuasor has made some key plays, but he has not performed at the level of Mosley. Suggs and Smith combined for 15.5 sacks last year, and that has also left a significant hole in the defense.

The Ravens are ranked 20th in the NFL with seven sacks. New England and Jacksonville are tied for the league lead with 13 apiece.  

There is an opportunity for some of the younger linebackers on the roster to seize the moment. The questions is, who is going to step and fill the void?

“Those reps are definitely up for grabs,” Harbaugh said. “We’ll see who takes them. In my mind, those young guys, the reps are there. We need to give our older guys a break. They can’t be playing all those snaps all year.

“We want to play fast defense. We want to be rested and healthy. But none of those guys have stepped up, in my mind, and taken the reps, yet. That’s disappointing, so we’ll see who’s the man for the job. The ball is in their court.”

Outside linebacker Jaylon Ferguson was active for the first time Week 3 against the Kansas City Chiefs. He had an uneven performance and did not have a tackle over nine snaps. 

The Ravens drafted Ferguson in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft from Louisiana Tech. He was expected to add a new dimension to the pass rush after breaking the NCAA record for career sacks with 45, eclipsing the previous mark set by Suggs.

However, Ferguson had an underwhelming training camp and has not been able to earn the confidence of his coaches to earn a regular spot in the rotation even though he has the versatility to play inside or outside linebacker. 

His performance against the Chiefs apparently didn’t do much to help his cause. 

“He was OK. He had a couple of mistakes, like he jumped inside on a run that ran around the edge,” Harbaugh said. “It really hurt us. Tim [Williams] did the same thing one time. Those are things that, as a young guy, you just can’t do. You have to do the right things. Now, I cut [Ferguson] some slack because he’s a rookie. We’ll see how fast he learns. But those reps are definitely up for grabs.”  

The Ravens are entering a critical stretch at the one-quarter point of the season, They have games with division rivals Cleveland, Pittsburgh and Cincinnati in consecutive weeks.

The Ravens are in first place in the AFC North and now have an opportunity to separate themselves from the rest of the field. 

Can they seize the moment? 

“Every game is big, but these games – I feel like they count for two games,” Harbaugh said. “It’s an opportunity to win one and have your opponent not win one. And that’s big. The Browns are excellent. They have tremendous talent. They play very hard. You’ve seen this defense fly around. It’s going to be a big challenge for us, dealing with these guys. They’ll be fired up.

“We just have to go play good football and play our best football and be the Ravens.”

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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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