A lot of eyes will be focused on quarterback Lamar Jackson or wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. when the Ravens open training camp in late July, but the most intriguing player will be second-year outside linebacker David Ojabo.
If he plays up to his potential, Ojabo could become the elite, young pass rusher the Ravens have coveted since Terrell Suggs left Baltimore after the 2018 season.
“If they’re not setting their goals high enough and your vision isn’t big enough for your players, you’re not doing the right things, especially as a coach,” Ravens defensive coordinator Mike Macdonald said. “So, of course we have big visions for ‘Ja’ and the things that we want him to be able to do.”
The Ravens have had their share of strong pass rushers, including defensive end Michael McCrary, defensive tackle Sam Adams and outside linebackers Elvis Dumervil and Justin Houston.
But Suggs and fellow outside linebacker Peter Boulware were even more special because they were drafted by Baltimore. Boulware was the Ravens’ top pick, fourth overall, out of Florida State in the 1997 draft, and Suggs came six years later as the No. 10 overall pick from Arizona State.
Suggs is the Ravens’ all-time sack leader with 132 1/2 in 229 games, and Boulware finished with 70 sacks in 126 games.
Ojabo has that kind of potential.
“He’s here and he’s developed,” Macdonald said of Ojabo, who was the Ravens’ second-round pick in 2022. “He had all this time to learn the scheme, learn the drills, build the foundation and get physically stronger. Mentally, he’s in a great spot, so I think it’s all positive.”
Ojabo understands what can happen for him here. That’s why he tried to talk Suggs into allowing him to wear the former Ravens star’s No. 55 jersey, the same number Ojabo wore at Michigan.
Suggs’ response was vintage Suggs: Thanks, but no thanks. Translation: Hey, young fella, go build your own legend.
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The 6-foot-4, 225-pound Ojabo has all the tools. He is long and rangy like Boulware, though not as thick as Suggs. The one thing that separated Suggs is that he could change direction and do it with power in either his arms or his legs.
Ojabo, though, has an assortment of moves. Unlike fellow outside linebacker and friend Odafe Oweh, who is a one-dimensional speed rusher, Ojabo has the quickness to turn the corner as well as the strength to win in hand-to-hand combat against most offensive linemen.
During the offseason, he appears to have added five to 10 pounds of bulk in the chest and shoulder areas.
“I put on a solid, probably, 10 pounds of muscle,” Ojabo said. “It’s more confidence, will help me be more stable in myself going up against grown men, now. So, it’s all just a big confidence boost.”
As far as meeting expectations, Ojabo isn’t fazed.
“It’s never pressure; it’s just what we do,” he said. “I’m just excited to be out there with my brothers and just play football.”
Ojabo learned a lot last season, even though he saw only significant action in the regular-season finale against Cincinnati, when he sacked Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow.
He missed most of last season after he tore his Achilles tendon last March at his pro day. He still had some fine teachers in Houston, who led the Ravens in sacks last season with 9 1/2, and defensive lineman Calais Campbell, who served as a tough guy tutor.
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Now, it’s his show time — and time to put the injury behind him.
“Honestly, I’m tired of hearing about it. I’m really tired. It’s in my past,” Ojabo said. “I’ve grown from it. It’s made me stronger. And yes, I’m ready to move on from it. I’m 110%.”
Few of the Ravens know Ojabo better than Macdonald. He was the Wolverines’ defensive coordinator in 2021 when Ojabo had 11 sacks.
“I think he can rush inside and out,” Macdonald said. “The skill set, and it just gets on you a little quicker inside, so that’s something you have to get used to a little bit. We’ll probably start him outside and see where it goes from there — similar to what we did with Odafe last year.
“As far as I know, he’s ready to roll.”