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Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley takes 'life lesson' from uneven second season

Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, left, defends Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 27, 2015 in Baltimore.
Ravens linebacker C.J. Mosley, left, defends Antonio Brown of the Pittsburgh Steelers at M&T Bank Stadium on Dec. 27, 2015 in Baltimore. (Patrick Smith / Getty Images)

After the most disheartening loss in a season full of them — the controversial Week 10 defeat to the Jacksonville Jaguars on a field goal that shouldn't have happened because of an unassessed penalty on the previous play — tempers began boiling over in the Ravens locker room.

Even the most veteran players on the defense couldn't hide their frustrations, shouting about the officials to anyone who would listen, but it was an emerging young leader who calmed the situation down.

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In a season when he had to live up to being a Pro Bowl selection as a rookie, second-year inside linebacker C.J. Mosley's growth as a leader has coach John Harbaugh just as excited about his future as his play on the field.

"He played very well," Harbaugh said. "He has played a lot better the second half the season than the first half — as has our defense as a whole. C.J. has a great career in front of him. The other thing that has showed up a couple times that is probably under the radar are some of his leadership things that have come up. It's just conversations here and there, things that he has asked other players to do, that far exceed his years in the league."

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Harbaugh, teammates and Mosley himself all acknowledge that his leadership style isn't of the fiery soliloquy variety, as former Ravens stars have used. But fellow second-year player Terrence Brooks, whose locker is beside Mosley's, said his is the type that makes you want to be better simply by seeing him work.

"It's kind of already a given thing when he's put at the position he's in — he's a first-round guy, he's a middle linebacker," Brooks said. "He's already in the position to be that leader."

Since the moment he arrived in Baltimore as the 17th overall pick in the 2014 draft, he has also been in a position to make plays on the field. His rookie year saw him start alongside veteran Daryl Smith from early in training camp, leading the team and finishing seventh in the NFL with 133 tackles.

He had three sacks, two interceptions and a forced fumble, and despite two Rookie of the Month awards, finished second to St. Louis Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

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Still, he was rewarded with a Pro Bowl spot, and in the process set a high standard for the rest of his career.

At least early this year, he had trouble meeting that bar. Teams targeted Mosley and Smith in coverage with running backs and tight ends. He acknowledged last month that he started slower than he wanted to, making uncharacteristic errors and not making plays as well as he should.

Defensive coordinator Dean Pees said he didn't think Mosley was bad in the first half, especially against the run, but has focused more on coverage of late.

In the second half, he has appeared to be more himself. Mosley said he wasn't limited at all by his offseason wrist surgery or a knee problem that seemed to crop up in the first month of the season and kept him on the sideline for short stretches during games.

"For the most part, I think I did well," Mosley said. "Obviously, the stats weren't the same. Fans and people from the outside, the sports talk, they look at that. But from play to play, I think I did pretty well this year."

With one game to go, Mosley is second on the team behind Smith with 105 tackles, and has matched his 2015 totals with three sacks and a forced fumble. He also scored his first career touchdown, a 41-yard fumble recovery return in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals.

He was named a Pro Bowl alternate, a sign that his season isn't going completely unnoticed. But Mosley knows the standard he set for himself in the public eye isn't the goal — it's the one he holds himself to that's more important.

"If you look at it every year and say, 'I want to be at this level or this level,' you can kind of get frustrated, especially if you're injured or something's not going right," Mosley said. "That kind of makes you frustrated. But for me, I know what I can do. I definitely showed that last year, and I definitely set the bar high.

"Especially me coming out as a first-round pick, the standards are always going to be high for me. For me, it's just about making plays and being in the right position and not making mental errors in the game. That's kind of how I judge it."

He wasn't the only one who entered this season with lofty expectations, though. The Ravens' 5-10 record is far from what they thought it would be this season.

Mosley, who lost seven total games in his four years at Alabama, isn't going to let the opportunity to grow from the experience pass him by.

"On the field, off the field, it's pretty much a life lesson," Mosley said. "Expect great things, you work hard for it, and sometimes it doesn't go your way. That's kind of been the tale for the season this whole year."

twitter.com/JonMeoli

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