The final Penn State-Michigan soccer recreation was a tricky one for Odafe Oweh. A 12 months after he helped put away the Wolverines in certainly one of his ultimate school video games, the Ravens exterior linebacker needed to watch from afar because the Nittany Lions gave up a late lead in a slim residence loss.
Aside from the entire beating-his-alma-mater factor, although, Oweh remembers liking what he noticed from the Wolverines. Below then-defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald, now in his first 12 months overseeing the Ravens’ protection, Michigan developed one of many nation’s pass-rush duos. On one aspect was Aidan Hutchinson, the eventual No. 2 total decide in April’s NFL draft, and on the opposite was David Ojabo, a first-round expertise who fell to the Ravens within the second spherical due to damage issues.
“He lets them go,” Oweh mentioned Friday of Michigan’s edge rushers beneath Macdonald. “That’s what I like. He lets them go. He lets them have freedom and simply be who they’re. So I’m trying ahead to how he makes use of me.”
Three days into coaching camp, it’s unattainable to know simply how the Ravens will use Oweh, or how their move rush will look, or how a lot the blitzing tendencies may change from the times of Don “Wink” Martindale, as a result of Macdonald himself nonetheless doesn’t know what his unit can do. The constraints of final 12 months’s move rush had been obvious by season’s finish; the potential of the 2022 group remains to be unknown.
In his first information convention of camp, Macdonald, 35, recalled defensive gamers and coaches promising each other that they “needed to be the protection that we envisioned.” However he acknowledged that these outlines are, for the second, sketched out in pencil, not pen.
“I simply assume it’s an analysis of your workforce,” Macdonald mentioned. “We realized final 12 months that our greatest gamers [at Michigan] had been our edge guys, and we needed to allow them to do what they do. So we’re within the course of proper now of determining who our greatest gamers are, what they do greatest, after which the purpose will probably be to allow them to go do these issues, ? It’s not rocket science, but it surely’s in all probability simpler mentioned than achieved. However that’s what we’re seeking to do.”
For a coordinator taking on one of many NFL’s most disappointing defenses — the injury-ravaged Ravens completed twenty eighth within the league in effectivity final season, in accordance with Soccer Outsiders — Macdonald doesn’t have to fret a couple of teardown job. The secondary ought to be one of many NFL’s strongest and most versatile. The defensive position ought to be stout. There’s lastly continuity at inside linebacker.
Exterior of extensive receiver, although, no Ravens group has been extra scrutinized than the workforce’s move rush. Final 12 months, in Martindale’s ultimate season as coordinator, the Ravens had a 31% blitz price (uncharacteristically low, but nonetheless sixth highest within the NFL) however completed with simply 34 sacks in 17 video games (eleventh fewest) and a 23% stress price (ninth lowest). In high-leverage conditions, they had been even worse: simply 12 sacks on third and fourth down, the Ravens’ fewest since 2002, with simply two over their ultimate eight video games.
Accidents have achieved the move rush no favors. Exterior linebacker Tyus Bowser, who led the workforce with seven sacks final season, remains to be recovering from a torn Achilles tendon and has not been cleared to observe. A shoulder damage restricted Oweh to particular person work over the workforce’s offseason program, although he’s impressed as a full participant within the opening days of camp.
“I undoubtedly didn’t like the way in which final season went, all of the accidents and stuff,” exterior linebacker Justin Houston, who re-signed earlier this month, mentioned Thursday. “However I’m excited for this 12 months. I believe we’ve received quite a lot of issues going — quite a lot of particular issues going. I simply pray that we keep wholesome.”
With good well being, the Ravens ought to have a strong rotation on the sting. The 33-year-old Houston, who graded out because the Ravens’ high pass-rushing exterior linebacker final season, in accordance with Professional Soccer Focus, is the group’s “sensei,” Oweh joked. Exterior linebackers Daelin Hayes and Vince Biegel have each flashed. Ojabo, who’s nonetheless unsigned, might emerge as a situational move rusher if he recovers from his torn Achilles tendon in time to contribute.
The Ravens must also have an improved inside move rush, with rookie Travis Jones and an improved Justin Madubuike serving to to lighten fellow lineman Calais Campbell’s workload. Inside linebacker Patrick Queen, who’s poised to change into a extra common third-down presence this season, has impressed as a blitzer in camp.
“One factor we’re difficult the blokes proper now all through camp is, we’re in search of one of the best three, 4, 5 guys at any given time that not solely rush one of the best however work collectively one of the best within the move rush,” Macdonald mentioned.
Macdonald’s most spectacular feat in his one 12 months at Michigan may’ve been the Wolverines’ pass-rush turnaround. Michigan completed with nearly 2 1/2 sacks per recreation final season, up from 1 1/2 per recreation in 2020, at the same time as its blitz price fell from 42.5% to 30.1%, in accordance with Sports activities Data Options.
Standouts at each stage of the Ravens’ protection, from the secondary to the defensive position, have raved about Macdonald’s abilities as a instructor, how he could make the advanced appear easy. Six weeks from the season opener, Oweh’s optimistic in regards to the bounce the protection could make.
“Everyone seems to be speaking in a different way,” Oweh mentioned. “We’re all fired up. I don’t wish to examine something. Clearly, on the finish of the day, it’s as much as the gamers making performs and every little thing, however I really feel like everybody’s fired as much as begin one thing new, be speaking extra, be extra sound and every little thing. So it ought to be a great 12 months.”