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Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan loses weight, expands role

Ravens defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan during a preseason game against the Redskins last season at M&T Bank Stadium.

Timmy Jernigan faked right, getting right guard Ryan Wendell off balance, and exploded left, slamming the New England Patriots lineman to the ground with a powerful hand to his shoulder.

In a flash, Jernigan was in the backfield, and Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, who had lined up in the shotgun formation, was on the ground. The sack in the Jan. 10 AFC divisional-round playoff game was another snapshot of the rookie defensive tackle's vast potential and another reason for the Ravens' confidence in their replacement for five-time Pro Bowl selection Haloti Ngata.

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A fixture in the Ravens defense for nine years, Ngata was traded to the Detroit Lions this offseason after a contract dispute. Now Ngata's old job belongs to Jernigan, who will become a full-time starter in his second NFL season.

"I'm definitely ready," Jernigan, an All-American at Florida State, said during the Ravens' organized team activities last week. "I've had to take a back seat for the last four years of playing football. My first two years at Florida State, I was behind older guys and I still put up numbers. My third year there, I started, but we blew everybody out and I only played part of the games.

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"I come here, and I had to play behind Haloti. I've been waiting for this moment for a long time. Yeah, it's big shoes to fill and all that, but I'm feeling good. I'm feeling ready. I don't feel stress or pressure. I feel like it's a great opportunity for me to show everyone what I can do."

Jernigan had 23 tackles and four sacks as a rookie despite being limited to 12 games and three starts by arthroscopic surgery on a torn meniscus.

During Ngata's four-game suspension in December for violating the NFL's performance-enhancing-drug policy, Jernigan displayed flashes of what he could do. He finished with 11 tackles and two sacks while standing in for Ngata as the Ravens won three of four games and earned an AFC wild-card playoff berth.

"I really felt like I could do it from the time I got here last year," Jernigan said. "I knew my situation. I feel like what I did when Haloti was out was a big confidence booster for the coaching staff, more than me, because I always knew I could do it. I understood what I can do."

As Jernigan heads into his second NFL season, the Ravens hope to see even more out of him as he takes on an expanded role. During the organized team activities Thursday, a noticeably leaner Jernigan regularly got into the backfield.

"Timmy is looking good," Ravens coach John Harbaugh said. "He's out here playing fast. He's a year ahead of where he was a year ago, obviously, in terms of knowing the defense. When the pads come on, that'll tell the story for those guys up front, but he has looked good so far."

Jernigan, a projected first-round draft pick last year, fell to the Ravens in the second round after he produced a diluted drug specimen at the NFL scouting combine. Although Jernigan and his agent at the time, Sunny Shah, explained that Jernigan simply had drunk too much water before the test after suffering from dehydration, the scrutiny affected his draft stock. After picking Jernigan, general manager Ozzie Newsome said the Ravens had investigated the incident thoroughly and came away comfortable with Jernigan's character. Jernigan has had no problems since arriving in Baltimore.

"I definitely feel like they got a steal," said Jernigan, who's now represented by Drew Rosenhaus. "I plan to keep proving people wrong. At the end of the day, the coaches believe in me and Ozzie believes in me. I just want to prove to people that they're right and I'm right as well. I wake every morning and think about that kind of stuff. If that kind of stuff don't fuel you, I don't know what will."

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Jernigan had 63 tackles and 4.5 sacks as a junior for the national champion Seminoles before declaring early for the draft. He signed a four-year, $4.382 million contract that includes $2.126 million guaranteed and a $1.507 million signing bonus.

Jernigan doesn't think small or lack for confidence after finishing with two more sacks and eight fewer tackles than Ngata during the veteran's final season with the Ravens.

The native of Lake City, Fla., has set his ambitions on making 10 sacks and reaching the Pro Bowl this season. Jernigan also became a father this offseason; his daughter, Naomi, was born a month ago.

"Man, I definitely want to have bigger numbers than last year and I want to go to the Pro Bowl," Jernigan said. "Ain't no other way to put it. I just want to prove to people that I can play the run as well. Coming in, they were saying, 'Oh, he can play the run but he can't play the pass.' Now it's: 'He can't play the run but he can play the pass.'

"People need to make their minds up, you know what I mean? I know what I can do. I want to prove I am who the coaching staff knows I am. I know I have to be consistent. I can't just show flashes. I know what's expected of me."

Jernigan is different from Ngata in many ways, especially size. At 6 feet 4, 350 pounds, Ngata was a behemoth capable of lining up anywhere from nose tackle to defensive end. The 6-2 Jernigan is shorter and roughly 50 pounds lighter. After spending the offseason training with San Francisco 49ers veteran defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, also a former Florida State star, and at well-respected trainer Pete Bommarito's facility in South Florida, Jernigan is down to 295 pounds.

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"I definitely feel a lot better, in better shape," Jernigan said. "I know I got even stronger working out with Darnell. Darnell is like a big brother to me. I learned a lot from him and Haloti during last season, and also [current Chicago Bears linebacker] Pernell McPhee. McPhee played a huge role with me."

Beyond Ngata and Jernigan's physical dimensions, style of play also separates the two. Jernigan is a disruptive and extremely aggressive lineman who tries to penetrate the backfield. Ngata provided a massive presence at the line of scrimmage, frequently occupying two blockers and allowing teammates to make the play. But he also busted through for tackles himself.

"I like to slash in there and use everything I've got to beat them to the punch," Jernigan said. "I'm not that big, stay-at-home defensive lineman. Haloti and I are different players, but that's OK. You have to be yourself."

Jernigan is athletic. He has run the 40-yard dash in 4.97 seconds and bench-pressed 225 pounds 27 times. He finished his college career with 139 tackles, including 25 for losses, and 81/2 sacks. The Ravens are hoping for similar production.

"Timmy, that dude's a beast," nose tackle Brandon Williams said. "He never stops. He's a pit bull."

awilson@baltsun.com

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