Ravens rookie linebacker C.J. Mosley lines up on every snap beside who he calls an "old-school" linebacker, Daryl Smith.
On the opposite sideline Sunday, he'll cross paths with Panthers star Luke Kuechly, the 2013 Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year and the new standard for the athletic, three-down linebacker Mosley hopes to become.
"[He's] one of the guys that can move around, make plays in the coverage and move sideline to sideline," Mosley said. "Watching him at Boston College when I was at Alabama, then after he came out … [he made] it seem like he's still playing college. It kind of gave a younger linebacker like me a little hope that we can move around and change the game."
Listed at 6-feet-3 and 238 pounds, Kuechly was selected ninth overall in 2012, and already has a Defensive Rookie of the Year award and a Defensive Player of the Year honor to his name. He leads the league with 354 tackles since he entered the league, and has improved the Panthers' run defense from 21st before he arrived to seventh.
Mosley pointed to Kuechly's 24-tackle masterpiece last year against Tampa Bay as the type of performance that makes him believe his style of linebacker can excel in the NFL. But those are traditional linebacker responsibilities. What makes Kuechly unique is his abilities in pass coverage. Kuechly is tasked with a large chunk of the middle of the field when he drops back into coverage, and his presence in the middle allows the surrounding defenders to tighten up their own coverages.
The athletic Mosley and Smith, whom he said "is one of the bigger, 250 [pound] linebackers that runs downhill," are typically responsible for the middle of the field in the Ravens zone. They aren't tasked with as much as Kuechly and company are. Mosley said as long as he "knows the defense and we're not messing up, we're good."
When he looks at a player with Kuechly's responsibility, however, he sees what's possible for a young, athletic linebacker in his mold. Panthers coach Ron Rivera believes a player like Kuechly can elevate the entire defense.
"What it does is it gives everybody a little confidence that there's a guy that understands our scheme, that can put us in the right defenses, has the ability to make plays," Rivera said. "He's a solid football player and he's a solid young man."
Kubiak felt for Torrey Smith
The Ravens' 23-21 victory over the Browns featured another quiet game for wide receiver Torrey Smith, who caught just two passes for 25 yards, leaving him with only six catches for 85 yards on the season. However, Ravens offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak felt like Smith's stat line on Sunday was misleading.
"We'll see what happens but I'll tell you this: Torrey had a great week last week," Kubiak said. "We had five opportunities for him to have big plays in the game."
Smith, who made an 18-yard catch in the first quarter, got behind the Browns' defense on the Ravens' second play of the fourth quarter, but quarterback Joe Flacco was hit by Paul Kruger and the fluttering pass fell well short and landed in the arms of Browns safety Tashaun Gipson.
On another Ravens drive midway through the fourth quarter, Smith drew a pass interference call on Justin Gilbert at the Browns' 5-yard line. Flacco also targeted Smith three more times in the quarter but all of the attempts were incomplete.
"I kind of felt bad for him coming out of the game," Kubiak said. "He really had a chance to make some big plays. We missed him in the end zone. He's working extremely well."
Brooks on Benjamin
Rookie safety Terrence Brooks saw Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin make spectacular plays at Florida State each day in practice, where he displayed the top-level athleticism that made him the 28th overall pick in the NFL draft.
Despite that inside knowledge, Brooks said the Ravens are treating the league's leading rookie wide receiver as if he were any other player.
"We can't focus just too much on one player, but we do respect him," Brooks said. "He's going to make some plays, we're going to make some plays, so it's just a matter of who makes the most."
Benjamin is the team's leading receiver with 253 yards, and only tight end Greg Olsen (19) has more catches than his 16. He's already performed a highlight-reel catch in the end zone during Week 1 in Tampa Bay in which he outmuscled Buccaneers cornerback Mike Jenkins for his first career touchdown, and nearly topped it a week later with a one-handed sideline grab against the Detroit Lions in Week 2.
Despite his unit blocking two field goals over the first three games, Ravens associate head coach/special teams coordinator Jerry Rosburg said there's not been a "renewed emphasis" on the skill. "It's just the fact that we actually [have] finally done it. It's been a long drought," said Rosburg, who described Asa Jackson's block on Billy Cundiff's 36-yard attempt last Sunday as "extraordinary." … Running backs Jonathan Stewart (knee) and Fozzy Whittaker (thigh) and tackle Garry Williams (back) sat out practice for the Panthers. Starting linebacker Thomas Davis (hip) was limited