Each week, we bring you a Q&A with a Ravens player, coach or team executive to help you learn a little more about the team. Today's guest is defensive end Pernell McPhee.
With four sacks, you rank fourth on the defense. Have you been surprised by your success in your rookie season?
I really did anticipate it because I knew the ability and the heart that I have, and that's what it all boils down to. I know I've got a big heart, a lion's heart, so I really haven't been surprised.
Because of the lockout, you were unable to participate in the offseason workouts and minicamps that rookies in the past took part in. Did that put you at a disadvantage?
Well, it was during the preseason games that I finally realized that I could play with the veterans and the pros, be on the same level as them without losing a step. That did kind of surprise me. But I had a good preseason — from the first game against Philadelphia, and it kept going on to the game against Kansas City. So I felt kind of good off the preseason. I had a lot of confidence, and a lot of the veterans were behind me. I just had to go out in the regular season and put it on tape again.
Do you feel like you've played well enough to be a starter?
No. I love my role. I love when [defensive tackle] Haloti Ngata and [defensive end] Cory Redding are beating up on the offensive guards and the offensive tackles, and then I can come in and finish them off. So I love my role and what I'm doing right now. I just love the way we're playing ball.
Does it feel strange with work alongside Cory Redding while also competing with him to be a starter?
We just call it teamwork. He's a very humble guy who took me under his wing in a very respectful way. He's seen that I have a lot of ability, but he wasn't like, 'Oh, this kid has a lot of ability, so let me separate myself from him and don't teach him anything.' He's been more like, 'Let me add some of my knowledge that I got from the game.' At every practice and every game, he's talking to me. If he sees something that I don't see, he tries to tell me, 'Hey, they're going to do this. If you see this, they're going to do this play.' It's just been a real great experience because a lot of guys don't have that.
What's been the high point of your season thus far?
I really haven't got a high point right now. I'm just trying to stay humble and try to go out there and make plays and celebrate with my team.
Not even sacking rookie quarterback Andy Dalton to cement the team's 31-24 win against the Cincinnati Bengals on Nov. 20?
That really wasn't the high point for me. I was just going out and playing great defense and having fun with my teammates and winning every game that we could.
Has there been a low point?
Yeah, in practice. You get beat up a lot in practice, but it's kind of fun going against the starting offensive line. It's been a great experience for me. I can't do anything but just take it and roll with it.
Which of your teammates has been the most influential in your young career?
I could say several guys. There are a lot of vets behind me, cheering for me and hoping that I make the right decisions. Guys like Cory Redding, Haloti Ngata, [outside linebacker] Jarret Johnson, [inside linebacker] Ray Lewis, [outside linebacker Terrell] Suggs — all of those guys are right behind me. They're always saying, 'Good job, kid,' but they're always trying to let me know that I should stay level-headed and don't get the big head. Be consistent and don't get complacent.
Defensive line coach Clarence Brooks has a way of lifting you up and bringing you back to reality, doesn't he?
Yeah. That's part of being a coach. You've got to stay on top of the young guys. This is our first year, so we didn't know what to expect. Right now, our college season is over with, and he's been staying on me, saying that I've got to come out every day [for practice] and perform like I'm in the game because really, my games are Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays. That's basically my game [in determining] how many reps I get [on Sundays]. So he's still on me a lot, and he'll always be on me. But that's just a good life experience.
What was the biggest adjustment from playing for Mississippi State in the SEC to the Ravens in the NFL?
Not being vocal like I used to be. I used to be a real vocal person. I used to talk a lot and get in guys' faces, but everybody on this level is a grown man. Everybody's a leader, so you've got to be your own leader and look up to the leaders like Ray Lewis and [free safety] Ed Reed that are on the team.
But how do you suddenly rein in that role of being a vocal leader?
By being humble. I come in, listen and learn. The veteran guys, they've been here for years, and they know what it takes. This is my first year. So I just can't come in and try to take over. I would try to do that, but I know these guys, and I know when to do it and how to do it. So I'm just learning off them. This is my first year, and patience is the key.
As you mentioned, you're 11 games into the NFL season, which is pretty much a season at Mississippi State. How do you avoid the dreaded "rookie wall"?
For me, I don't really feel a rookie wall because I love football. Every time I get an opportunity to come out here and pad up and compete, that's what I like to do. For me, it's about competing and learning new stuff and learning from my coaches every day. That's the main thing with me. I don't think there's a rookie wall, and I haven't shown it so far.
What are your goals for the remainder of the season?
Get better and go out and win a championship.
Any personal goals?
No, I don't have any personal goals. Just go out and play like it's my last [day]. I just want to fight hard for my team.
As a fifth-round pick, do you feel like you're showing what the other 31 teams in the league missed?
I haven't proved anything to them yet. Until we play all 31 teams and I get an opportunity to dominate all 31 teams, then that's what I will feel like I proved it to them.
How gratifying is it for you to have played this well for an organization that decided to draft you?
I guess they saw what they liked on tape, and I guess they did take a chance. When they picked me, I told them that I was ready to come to work, and when I got here, it was [to] come out and compete, and that's what I did.